Home Office accused of still ignoring offers to house children from camps in the UK
Pressure is building on the Home Office to fulfil its promise to give sanctuary to child refugees as it emerged that foster agencies across the UK have offered dozens of places that remain unused.
Estimates suggest there are hundreds of places available for vulnerable unaccompanied minors in addition to the 1,400 offers from local councils that the Home Office is accused of ignoring.
Britain’s largest fostering and adoption charity, Tact Care, said that fostering agencies had told the Home Office they had significant capacity to house child refugees. Tact Care alone had 25 spaces that could be used immediately.
Andy Elvin, chief executive of Tact Care, said: “The Home Office could easily accommodate its obligations to offer sanctuary to vulnerable minors. Its response has nothing to do with capacity, it’s essentially an ideological decision they are making. It’s not one based on child welfare or our ability to do it as a country, it’s that they don’t want to do it. We’ve told the Home Office but they are not interested.”
Pressure is also mounting on cabinet ministers who backed a scheme to welcome unaccompanied minors to take a “moral stance” after some protections for children were dropped from the Brexit bill.
Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, was one of the Tories to rebel in support of a plan drawn up by the Labour peer Lord Dubs in 2016, which committed the UK to accept almost 500 unaccompanied child refugees. Lord Dubs was one of 10,000 children rescued from the Nazis by the Kindertransport in 1939.
A separate commitment to allow child refugees stranded in Europe to reunite with families in Britain after Brexit was dropped by Boris Johnson.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, called on ministers and Tory MPs to reverse the “moral disgrace” of removing the protection for children.
“At the election, Johnson promised to maintain the UK’s reputation as a ‘beacon of freedom and human rights’.” he said. “However, at the first hurdle, he showed his true colours: tearing up protection for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Charities are stepping in after growing frustrated with the Home Office’s slowness in transferring child refugees to the UK. The Dubs amendment of May 2016 followed a public outcry about the plight of children stranded in Europe. Campaigners had hoped that as many as 3,000 children would benefit, but ministers set a limit of 480. The Home Office refuses to specify how many of these children have since been transferred to Britain.
Now a project, funded by a Jewish philanthropist, will find family-based placements for children who arrive under the Dubs scheme and ensure that councils have money upfront to provide a home.
The project, launched in Bristol, Wiltshire and the London borough of Lewisham, and run by a Christian charity called Home for Good, is seeking an initial 20 homes.
The charity said the situation was so poor that it had identified children processed by the UN refugee agency in European camps who were still waiting for places to become available. Emily Christou, head of advocacy at Home for Good, said: “We heard that the 480 still seems to be way off. We knew there was public goodwill out there and we knew that local authorities are saying they’ll take more.”
The scheme’s first meeting between a family and a social worker took place last week. The next step will be winning approval from a local authority panel and receiving an allowance to cover the costs of opening their home.
Jennifer Nadel, co-director of the campaign group Compassion in Politics, said: “It is scandalous and heartbreaking that the UK isn’t honouring its moral and legal obligation to these refugee children. We are the fifth largest economy in the world; we have families and local authorities willing to welcome these children with open arms. The problem is the lack of political will.”
The Home Office says it is committed to the Dubs scheme and that safeguarding vulnerable children will remain a priority after Brexit.
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