The government has announced the introduction of a formal system for dispersing unaccompanied child migrants across the country, following the failure of funding incentives aimed at relieving the burden on Kent CC.
Addressing the Lords EU home affairs committee on Wednesday, immigration minister James Brokenshire said the new scheme would be voluntary, but backed by “statutory mechanisms” in the Migration Bill, which passed its third reading in the upper chamber last week.
National system to disperse child migrants annnounced
Source: James Stewart
He said the current system introduced last year, which included the offer of increased daily funding rates, had not led to the anticipated level of offers from councils to alleviate pressure on Kent – which he described as dealing with the “national load” of unaccompanied minors.
Kent is currently looking after 892 unaccompanied children, far in excess of any other council, due to the major route through Dover.
Croydon and Hillingdon LBCs are also experiencing high levels, with rates increasing in Northamptonshire CC, which is on the M1, a major lorry route. Ports on the east coast, such as Thurrock, are also seeing increasing numbers as people smugglers and migrants seek to avoid increased security in Calais and Dover.
Levels are expected to increase further over the coming months due to the warmer weather.
Mr Brokenshire said the new arrangements, due to be implemented in July, would see the introduction of further financial support for councils and the development of regional strategic migration partnerships to lead on the national dispersal of children.
He confirmed he had written to councils to clarify the funding arrangements over the coming months after the previous offer, made in November, expired on 31 March.
LGC understands the letter states existing arrangements for supporting unaccompanied children will continue. These include councils that take children from Kent being paid the higher “gateway” daily funding rates currently allocated to Kent, Hillingdon and Croydon.
These are a daily rate of £114 for under 16s, and £91 for 17- and 18-year-olds. This compares to standard daily rates for unaccompanied children nationally of £95 and £71 respectively.
The minister added: “My intent is that [the new system] should be a voluntary arrangement because effectively the statutory mechanisms that we have in the Immigration Bill provide underpinning to that if those arrangements don’t operate in the way that we the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services anticipate.”
The LGA welcomed the introduction of a national planning for the dispersal of unaccompanied children, but called for more clarity.
David Simmonds (Con), chairman of the LGA’s asylum, refugee and migration task group, said: “We are concerned that the government is still unable to clarify the long-term funding arrangements for councils looking after unaccompanied children, or provide any detail of how a national dispersal mechanism will operate.
“No council should be made to choose between supporting unaccompanied asylum seeking children and providing vital services for their local community, and these outstanding questions must be resolved as soon as possible.”
He also called for the new scheme to be phased in and planned in partnership with councils
Also giving evidence to the committee, children’s minister Edward Timpson said the government had considered a number of models which could work in the best interest of children.
He admitted the new system would mean that placements would be made in parts of the country where councils have had very limited involvement and experience of dealing with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Mr Timpson said mechanisms would be put in place so that such councils could “garner knowledge and experience as soon as possible”.