Councillors attack response to child refugees in Calais

Children walking among the tents at Calais Jungle camp Image copyright PA

Lone child refugees in Calais need to be better treated by ministers and party leaders, councillors have said during a visit to the camp.

More than 100 unaccompanied children are believed to in the camp despite being eligible for asylum in the UK.

A lack of national leadership has meant it had fallen to local authorities to "step up", the councillors said.

The government said it had increased funding to help care for lone children.

There were more than 3,000 claims for asylum in the UK by unaccompanied children in 2015, in addition to those already being cared for in the UK, it added, saying local authorities needed to agree to care for and resettle them.

In May, former Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to accept unaccompanied child refugees with family links to the UK.

But councillors said there had been issues over identifying the children in the Calais camp, known as the Jungle, while aid workers claim not a single child eligible under the government's new rules has yet been placed.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Councillors visited the Jungle camp ahead of talks with their French counterparts

Stephen Cowan, Labour leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council criticised the government and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn for not taking more responsibility.

"Yvette Cooper (chair of Labour's refugee taskforce) is doing an amazing job. Lord Dubs is a friend of mine who has shown leadership, but it's not coming from the front bench on the mainstream parties," he said.

Ealing councillor Julian Bell said local authorities had a duty to help as much as they could despite "financial budgetary pressures".

Lone refugee children can be brought to the UK after an amendment by Labour peer Lord Dubs in the House of Lords put pressure on the government to say it would accept some unaccompanied minors.

Councils are responsible for the costs of caring for unaccompanied children - including schooling, foster care, university fees and housing - and receive funding at a fixed rate from central government.

The government said than 30 lone children have been accepted for transfer from within Europe since Immigration Act amendments were made in May, and the majority of these have already arrived.

Goodwill 'missing'

After visiting the so-called Jungle, the Local Government Association (LGA) had a meeting with their French counterparts where they offered to send British officials to help register and process unaccompanied children.

David Simmonds from the LGA said talks had been "positive".

"It feels like goodwill has been missing from this process for a while... I imagine France, and the mayor in particular, are a bit fed-up being criticised by people in other countries and what local government is good at is finding practical solutions, so that's what we're going to do."

A Home Office spokeswoman said unaccompanied children who had already made it to the UK "still need support and we still need local authorities to agree to care for them".

"Local authorities, including Hammersmith and Fulham, must be willing to offer support to all unaccompanied children in need regardless of how they arrive in the UK," she said.

"We must avoid creating distinctions between unaccompanied children within Europe and the children who have made it to the UK on their own - especially when so many have undergone similar experiences."

The government added that councils such as Kent and Croydon were caring for disproportionately high numbers of unaccompanied children and a National Transfer Scheme has been set up for "a fairer distribution of caring responsibilities across the country".

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