Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has slammed the government for not bringing more child migrants from Calais, including those who have no ties to the UK, and has called on the Home Office to speed up the process. But local council leaders have complained that they are being landed with huge bills as they are financially responsible for unaccompanied migrants.
Child migrants have two legal routes into the UK: under the EU’s Dublin Convention children with relatives in Britain can claim asylum; alternately, those who have no UK links can apply under the so-called Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act.
The Amendment named after Alf Dubs, a Labour peer who came to the UK as a kindertransport refugee, didn’t stipulate how many children without familial ties should be offered refuge in the UK, but the Home Office later indicated it would be around 3,000.
It is the acceptance of children under the latter route that Corbyn has focused on, following reports that no children have yet been brought to the UK under the provision.
In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, seen by The Guardian, Corbyn said there was an “obvious delay in implementing the Alf Dubs amendment and commitments to help child refugees”.
He said the Home Office had been handed the paperwork of 212 children who qualified for asylum under the new law, adding: “The Dubs amendment instructed the government to act decisively and quickly to give security and sanctuary to child refugees who are alone and at high risk of abuse in the continent of Europe.
“Five months since the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act, none of the qualifying children have been brought to the UK.”
Calling on Theresa May to do more, he urged: “With the imminent closure of the Calais camp, it is imperative that the office of the prime minister intervenes as a matter of urgency to ensure that this process is priority.”
However, according to a report in The Telegraph, the Home Office has been failing to verify whether child migrants have connections, leading to some migrants with no UK relatives having been brought across from Calais already.
The situation has led to councils criticising the government, as it is left to them to track down the relatives of child migrants claiming to have links to the UK – and if none can be found the council becomes responsible for their care.
Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s asylum, refugee, and migration task group, said: “The Home Office are saying that they have carried out checks that family members exist but in fact local authorities are being asked to check out the relatives when the children arrive.
“Even if the child has named a relative here, they could be lying or the relative could be lying about their ability to look after them. They might say they have a spare bedroom but then it turns out that uncle is actually sharing a bedroom with five other people above a shop.
“If they can’t look after the children they will go back into the system as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
“The local authority then becomes responsible for their care, accommodation and education until the age of 25, under the Leaving Care Act. That means the local authority also has to pay their university fees in full, because as foreigners they aren’t entitled to student loans.”
The arrangement is placing a huge financial burden on local authorities with ports and airports within their boundaries, Cllr Simmonds said, adding: “For a long, long time councils at ports of entry have been expressing concern because of the numbers of cases where age assessments have been disputed. Ministers just didn’t seem to want to engage.”
Meanwhile, the Home Office has come under widespread criticism over its handling of the relocation of so-called child migrants from Calais, after it emerged that many of them were adults – one as old as 38.
In the latest group of 14 children to arrive in Croydon, six covered their faces with towels and blankets to avoid being photographed by reporters, prompting accusations that the Home Office is involved in a “literal cover up”. The remainder all looked to be young teenagers.
Conservative MP Philip Davies said: “What on earth are the Home Office doing? It’s not too much to expect we are actually taking children. All they do by putting up these barriers is lose even more public backing.”