David Cameron drops opposition to taking in unaccompanied child refugees from Europe

Councils say they are ready to "play their part" but government must deliver long-term funding to ensure care and support is available to child refugees

Child living in the Jungle migrant camp, Calais. Photo: Antonio Masiello/NurPhoto/REX Shutterstock

The government will no longer seek to block a Labour measure that would require the UK to start taking in unaccompanied child refugees from other European countries, prime minister David Cameron has announced.

During Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament earlier today, Cameron said the government would not try to stop the latest version of the amendment to the Immigration Bill proposed by the Labour peer Lord Dubs.

Dubs’ amendment originally required the government to take in 3,000 under 18s, but it has since been altered so that it does not specify how many should be resettled in the UK.

Conservative rebellion

Cameron said that since the amendment no longer says how many child refugees should be taken in, “it won’t be necessary to send the Dubs’ amendment back” to the House of Lords by rejecting it in the Commons.

“We are going to speak to local authorities to see what we can do,” he added.

Dubs’ original amendment was rejected by MPs last week but after the 3,000 figure was removed from the amendment, a group of as many as 30 Conservative MPs have said they would be willing to rebel against the government in order to make the measure law.

Long-term funding

In response to the prime minister’s announcement councillor David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s asylum, refugee and migration task force, said local authorities are “ready to play their part in supporting these children”.

However, he said the government needed to clarify long-term funding for councils who provide care placements and support to unaccompanied children.

“We are already working with government to ensure that unaccompanied children currently in the care of English councils are not disproportionately located in a small number of areas, and that councils taking responsibility for additional children have the necessary resources to properly meet their needs,” he said.

“It is therefore vital that the scheme announced today is fully aligned, and funded, alongside this and other existing programmes for resettling refugees, ensuring that councils are able to properly support these vulnerable children while continuing to provide vital services for their local community.”

Dispersal scheme

Cameron also told Parliament that the government would look at how it can speed up the taking in of child refugees who have family in the UK.

However, Cameron said the government stood by the principle that the UK’s priority should be to take unaccompanied children living in refugee camps outside the EU, rather than relocating them from “safe countries” within Europe.

Immigration minister James Brokenshire yesterday told Parliament that the Home Office will send a letter detailing plans for a national dispersal system for unaccompanied child refugees would be sent to local authorities after tomorrow’s local elections.

In late April, Simmonds said it was crucial that the detail of this scheme and the funding to support it was made clear as soon as possible. “No council should be made to choose between supporting unaccompanied asylum seeking children and providing vital services for their local community,” he said.

CAMHS support needed

Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the detail of the scheme and what support will be on offer to councils was critical.

“For local authorities to be able to support these vulnerable children properly we will need support from government to ensure the scheme is sustainable including that it is properly funded, there is a sufficient supply of foster carers and appropriate education provision to meet the needs of these children and young people,” he said.

“Some children may need additional support to help them overcome the trauma they have experienced – provision of suitable CAMHS will be key to this.”

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