Call to bring child refugees in Calais under UK safeguarding rules

Stella Creasy to table amendment to child welfare bill requiring young refugees to be protected and treated as potential citizens

The government’s child welfare bill should be amended to give young refugees in Calais protection under British safeguarding rules, the Labour MP Stella Creasy has said.

Creasy is to table an amendment to the children and social work bill which would require child refugees in Calais to be treated as potential UK citizens and come under child protection requirements.

“Either [the home secretary] Amber Rudd needs to sort out a new system of assessing child refugees or we will do it in parliament,” the Walthamstow MP said.

Creasy said she believed she could garner enough cross-party support to pass the amendment to the bill, which is at the report stage in the House of Lords before it goes through to the Commons.

Extending child safeguarding to cover refugees would mean there would be a panel responsible for each child, with an assigned guardian, to make decisions on their future welfare, health and education.

Creasy, who visited the Calais camp last week, said refugee charities which had been registering the children in order to push their cases with the Home Office could be designated guardians on the panels, normally used to make decisions about the wellbeing of children in care.

The panels are typically set up by local authorities, but Creasy said systems were already in place with Hillingdon council for children to be sent elsewhere for assessment when they arrived as lone refugees at Heathrow airport.

Just 40 children and teenagers have been allowed into the UK to be reunited with their families under the EU’s Dublin regulation. Charities have identified more than 200 who are still waiting in the camps, with only 35 of them understood to have cases in progress.

At least another 200 children in the camps are eligible for sanctuary in Britain under the Dubs amendment brought about by the Labour peer and former child refugee Alf Dubs, to bring child refugees to the UK. That amendment committed the government to relocate lone child refugees in Europe “as soon as possible”. Ministers in the Cameron administration later briefed that several thousand were expected to come to Britain.

Creasy said: “Our ambition is to have no kid in the camps by Christmas and to use this process as a way of implementing the Alf Dubs amendment. On my visit to the camps it was clear there were kids there who were eligible for assistance, as well as many others who should be assessed, but no process of assessment, hence the children were in limbo.”

She said responsibilities could be shared between local authorities, which would equate to fewer than two children per council. Local authorities are responsible for costs including schooling, foster care, university fees and housing, and receive funding at a fixed rate from central government.

The MP said the child safeguarding panels could be used to assess the refugee’s needs and their rights to be in the UK, as no such system was in place.

“There are nine-year-olds sleeping in tents which they share with strange men; that cannot be allowed to happen,” she said. “There are impossible levels of risk. Many of the children do not need fostering, they just need to be reunited with families who are already in the UK. There has to be systematic assessment of the children and the safeguarding panels are a way to do that.”

Creasy said she was shocked to find no British officials working in the camps to liaise with voluntary organisations which were identifying child refugees who had the right to travel to the UK under the Dublin regulation, or could be eligible to be transferred under the Dubs amendment.

Creasy has asked Rudd for a meeting to discuss how to remove some of the barriers preventing those in the camps from moving on to more permanent homes as refugees, or safely returning to their home countries, and in particular, how to expedite the cases of children with families in the UK.

“Contrary to reports in the media, there can be little doubt that it is ‘push’ factors not ‘pull’ factors which are leading individuals from many conflict zones to come to Calais, as the conditions there cannot be considered acceptable for any person to live in on a long-term basis,” she said.

“It is also clear that there is a desire within the British public to resolve the situation and to ensure that our nation plays its part in addressing the camps and the causes behind them.”

Last week, the former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper wrote to Rudd claiming the Home Office had been given details last month of 110 children and teenagers still in Calais, who had the right to be reunited with their families in the UK. No action had been taken on their cases, Cooper said.

The Home Office has said more than 30 children had been accepted for transfer to the UK under the Dubs amendment, the majority of whom had already arrived in the UK.

Talks were continuing with local authorities over the capacity to take more, and the Home Office said it had made “significant progress in improving and speeding up the existing processes via Dublin, especially since the beginning of the year”.

British and French authorities were to meet in the Calais camp on Thursday to discuss how to progress the cases of unaccompanied children. Councillors from the Local Government Association will visit the site with the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart.


Jessica Elgot

The GuardianTramp

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