UK councils will be forced to care for child asylum seekers

Authorities with social services departments will have to care for unaccompanied child migrants who cross the English Channel

Migrants being taken to Dover, in Kent, by the Border Force after a small boat rescue in the English Channel on October 10. PA
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The UK government is to force councils to care for some of the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who arrive on small boats after crossing the English Channel.

The local authorities will be sent letters from the Home Office on Tuesday notifying them about upcoming changes to a scheme that is currently voluntary, it has been reported.

All 217 councils across the UK with social services departments will be obliged to care for minors unless they can provide a valid reason for exemption within two weeks.

The shift in the government's approach comes as more than 100 children languish in hotels because of a shortage of places in homes for unaccompanied minors.

The government previously called on councils to come forward to give children a home, but not enough authorities volunteered.

Authorities will be forced to welcome unaccompanied children from hotels currently under the remit of Kent County Council and other municipalities on England's south coast.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told MPs in the Commons on Monday that councils around the country must "play their part" in offering accommodation to asylum seekers.

She said the government had offered to send police officers and border officials to France to help them intercept migrants attempting to illegally cross into British waters.

Ms Patel dismissed criticism from the opposition Labour Party, who implied the home secretary was blaming "everyone but herself" for the migration crisis.

“This problem will take time to fix and there is no silver bullet," Ms Patel told MPs. "The only solution is wholescale reform of our asylum system.”

The government's Borders and Nationality Bill, which is making its way through Parliament, would allow the government to strip British citizenship for a person when it would be "conducive to the public good".

This year records have been broken for the number of migrants arriving in the UK on small boats, and since January 1 there have been three times the total for the whole of 2020, when 8,417 made the trip.

At least 886 people succeeded in reaching the UK on Saturday, bringing the total for the year to more than 25,700, official data from the Home Office showed.

The figure has continued to rise despite repeated pledges from the Conservative government to make such crossings unviable and a promise to pay France tens of millions of pounds to stop the voyages.

Britain and France have clashed over the issue, with France insisting it has not received any funding while the UK has suggested the French are not doing enough to stem the flow of boats leaving its beaches.

Increased security at borders and Covid-19 restrictions have made traditional routes less viable for migrants and the number of people to have claimed asylum in the UK in the 12 months ending on June 30 was 31,115, a 4 per cent annual fall.

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.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the government's decision to compel councils to take unaccompanied children was important.

Mr Solomon said it "should reduce the unacceptable delays in vulnerable children, who have often experienced great trauma, getting the vital care they need".

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

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

A Home Office spokesman 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."

Updated: November 23, 2021, 9:54 AM