The government has agreed to take in more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, but has given no indication of how many, following calls for 3,000 more child refugees to be resettled in the UK.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said the government had asked the United Nations refugee agency to “identify the exceptional cases where a child’s best interests are served by resettlement to the UK and help us to bring them here”.
Reunited with family
But he said the “vast majority” of children were “better off” staying in the Middle East so they can be “reunited with surviving family members”.
“The UK government takes its responsibility in asylum cases involving children very seriously,” he said. “Ensuring their welfare and safety is at the heart of every decision made.”
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, asking an urgent question in Parliament, said there had been rumours the government would only look at helping children in camps in the region of the conflict.
“That is not enough,” she said. “In Greece, in Italy and in the Balkans, the reception centres and children’s homes are full, and children are disappearing. The Italian authorities estimate that about 4,000 children who were alone in Italy disappeared last year.
“We should especially be helping those who have family in Britain who are desperate to care for them.”
She referred to a tribunal hearing which ruled that three teenagers and a vulnerable adult should be able to stay with close relatives in the UK while their asylum cases are heard, rather than remaining in France alone.
The final decision will be handed down this morning.
Concern from sector
Concern has been previously expressed in the sector that councils must be given more financial support to adequately support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Alison O’Sullivan, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, told Community Care that national funding to provide training, share best practice and implement a regional mechanism to disperse child refugees was needed.
Currently port authorities, notably Kent, are housing disproportionate numbers of child refugees and have reported struggles to find emergency placements and longer term foster care, as well as school places, solicitors and health provisions.
The government’s announcement comes weeks after an International Development Committee (IDC) report recommended the UK take in 3,000 unaccompanied children, in addition to the 20,000 refugees the country has already committed to resettle. The report followed a campaign led by Save the Children.