The Government takes the welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children extremely seriously, and the UK has a proud history of providing protection for those in need, including some of the most vulnerable children affected by the migration crisis. The Government’s strategy is to support international efforts to find a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis; we must deal with its root causes, as well as respond to the consequences. That is why the UK has been at the forefront of the response to the events in Syria and the region, pledging over £2.3 billion in aid - our largest ever humanitarian response to a single crisis. We are also one of the few EU countries to meet our commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas aid.
We have a comprehensive approach to tackling these issues both at home and overseas. By the end of this Parliament, we will have resettled 20,000 Syrian nationals through our Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and a further 3,000 of the most vulnerable children and their families from the Middle East and North Africa region under the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. We also received over 33,000 asylum claims in the UK last year.
The number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children arriving in the UK has risen over the last few years, including in response to this Government’s commitment to the transfer of hundreds of children from Calais and to address the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable children. The UK has contributed significantly to hosting, supporting and protecting the most vulnerable children affected by the migration crisis. In the year ending September 2016, the UK granted asylum or another form of leave to over 8,000 children. This includes those who claimed asylum in the UK, those who were brought to the UK through our resettlement schemes, those transferred from within Europe, and those granted a refugee family reunion visa.
In 2016, we transferred over 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to the UK from Europe. This included more than 750 from France as part of the UK’s support for the Calais camp clearance. Over 200 of those children met the published criteria for section 67 of the Immigration Act. The remainder were transferred under an accelerated process based on the family reunion criteria of the Dublin Regulation. This was a one-off process, based on the principles of the Dublin framework but operated outside of it, and was implemented in response to the unique circumstances of the Calais camp clearance. All children not transferred to the UK are in the care of the French authorities.
The UK can be proud of its record of helping refugee children and I can today announce, in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act, that the Government will transfer the specified number of 350 children pursuant to that section, who reasonably meet the intention and spirit behind the provision. This number includes over 200 children already transferred under section 67 from France. It does not include children transferred to UK where they have close family here. We will announce in due course the basis on which further children will be transferred from Europe to the UK under section 67 of the Immigration Act to the specified number.
As required by the legislation, we have consulted with local authorities on their capacity to care for and support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children before arriving at this number. Local authorities told us they have capacity for around 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children until the end of this financial year. We estimate that at least 50 of the family reunion cases transferred from France as part of the Calais clearance will require a local authority placement in cases where the family reunion does not work out. We are grateful for the way in which local authorities have stepped up to provide places for those arriving and we will continue to work closely to address capacity needs.
The Government will continue to meet our obligations under the Dublin Regulation and accept responsibility for processing asylum claims where the UK is determined to be the responsible Member State, ensuring that it is in their best interests to come here. We are working closely with European partners to ensure the timely and efficient operation of the Dublin Regulation.
Of the over 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme so far, around half are children and last year we welcomed the first families to the UK under the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. We are fully committed to an effective response in the affected regions and to resettling the most vulnerable directly from those regions. Within Europe, the UK has also established a £10 million Refugee Children’s Fund to support the needs of vulnerable refugee and migrant children arriving in Europe. The fund includes targeted support to meet the specific needs of unaccompanied and separated children.
Here in the UK, we have launched the National Transfer Scheme to ensure a fairer distribution of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children across England and ease pressure on the children’s services of those local authorities with large numbers of unaccompanied children. To implement the National Transfer Scheme the Home Office has established a dedicated team to process the transfer of children quickly whilst at the same time acting in accordance with the child’s best interests. The Home Office also published detailed guidance for local authorities setting out the processes involved in transferring unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from one local authority to another, including the need to ensure that the scheme is driven by the welfare of the child.
As announced on 1 November, the Government will also deliver a safeguarding strategy for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. This will ensure the Government puts in place a comprehensive safeguarding strategy for unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children living in or being transferred or resettled to the UK.
To further support the transfer arrangements and underline our commitment to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, the Government significantly increased the funding it provides to local authorities who look after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Local authorities now receive £41,610 per annum for each unaccompanied asylum-seeking child aged under 16 and £33,215 per annum for unaccompanied asylum-seeking child aged 16 and 17. This represents a 20% and 28% increase in funding respectively. In addition, the Government went further and also increased the funding it provides to local authorities for those young people who turn 18 and go on to attract leaving care support by 33%. These significant increases in Government funding will have a very positive impact on local authorities’ ability to care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The Government has also announced the £140 million Controlling Migration Fund in England, which is intended to cover a broad range of costs associated with migration. It cannot duplicate or top up unaccompanied asylum-seeking children rates, but it may support short-term costs not included in the mainstream unaccompanied asylum-seeking children grant and costs related to family reunion cases. This could include costs such as the safeguarding assessments, recruitment campaigns for social workers or support workers, specialist counselling or training on the specific needs of unaccompanied children. Additional funding has also been offered to Strategic Migration Partnerships across the UK to help them bolster local structures and ensure they are equipped to deal with the diverse needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The Government has taken significant steps to improve an already comprehensive approach to supporting asylum-seeking and refugee children. This latest announcement provides further evidence of the Government’s commitment to playing its part in the global migration crisis. In addition to the tens of thousands of children in conflict regions and in Europe that are benefiting from UK aid and development assistance, we are providing protection to thousands of children in the UK each year.
The UK should be proud of its overall contribution.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords