Councils to be forced to take child asylum seekerson November 22, 2021 at 10:00 pm

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More than a hundred children are living in hotels because of a shortage of places in care homes.

People thought to be migrants in Border Force vessel are brought in to Dover on 20 November 2021

Image source, PA Media

Councils across the UK are to be forced to care for some of the unaccompanied asylum seeker children who have arrived via the English Channel in small boats.

BBC News understands they will be told on Tuesday about a change to a scheme that is currently voluntary.

Authorities will take children now being looked after by Kent and other councils on England’s south coast.

More than 100 children are living in hotels because of a shortage of places in children’s homes.

The change will see all 217 UK authorities with social services departments obliged to accept an allocation of the children.

The Home Office will send councils across the UK a letter giving them two weeks to present reasons why they should not accept them.

Speaking in the Commons on Monday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said councils around the UK needed to “play their part” in offering accommodation to asylum seekers.

It comes as the number of migrants to have reached the UK by boat this year has risen to more than three times the 2020 total. The Home Office said 886 people arrived on Saturday, bringing the 2021 total to more than 25,700. The figure for last year was 8,469.

However, increased security and Covid restrictions have made traditional routes less viable for migrants and the overall number of people to have claimed asylum in the UK in the 12 months ending June 2021 was 31,115, a 4% year-on-year fall.

The people who cross the Channel come to the UK from the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the world – including Yemen, Eritrea, Chad, Egypt, Sudan and Iraq.

Under international law, people have the right to seek asylum in whichever country they arrive, and there is nothing to say they must seek asylum in the first safe country. It is very hard to apply to the UK for asylum unless you are already in the country.

Chart showing numbers of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats to 2021

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the government decision to compel councils to take unaccompanied children was “important”. He said it “should reduce the unacceptable delays in vulnerable children, who have often experienced great trauma, getting the vital care they need”.

However, local government sources say there are concerns about the funding councils – which are already under financial pressure – will receive.

The Conservative leader of the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, Councillor James Jamieson, said: “These new arrangements must continue to swiftly take into account existing pressures in local areas.”

The home secretary criticised Scottish councils in the Commons on Monday for the numbers of children they had taken.

Kelly Parry, an SNP councillor who speaks for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said they were committed to participating on a voluntary basis and were already providing a “proportionate share” of placements.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are grateful for the continued support of local authorities to provide vital care to vulnerable children and we continue to keep the National Transfer Scheme under review to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of responsibility across the UK.”

2px presentational grey line
Map showing search and rescue areas
  • If migrants are found in UK national waters, it is likely they will be brought to a British port
  • If they are in international waters, the UK will work with French authorities to decide where to take them
  • Each country has search-and-rescue zones
  • An EU law called Dublin III allows asylum seekers to be transferred back to the first member state they were proven to have entered but the UK is no longer part of this arrangement and has not agreed a new scheme to replace it.
2px presentational grey line

Additional reporting by Alex Kleiderman

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