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28.01.16

Child refugees ‘must be dispersed fairly’ – LGA

Whitehall should commission a national agency to systematically record the arrivals of refugee children, assess their needs and “disperse them fairly” between council areas, the LGA has said.

It argued that it is not sustainable to ask a small number of port authority councils to look after thousands of young Syrian refugees, citing Kent’s struggles as an example.

The county, the closest to Calais and Dunkirk, saw its numbers of asylum-seeking children increase nearly threefold between March and December last year, primarily due to the peak of the migrant crisis during the summer.

There have recently been reports from Kent council chiefs that the authority is having to place children in its care system with other countries because the near-thousand young refugees are taking up its capacity.

Speaking to the BBC at the time, Cllr Peter Oakford said the large influx of refugees – far above that of other councils – was costing them more than expected and that the council’s already stretched services could be in “significant difficulties” if more children arrived in the warmer months.

Today, the LGA’s asylum, refugee and migration task group chair, Cllr David Simmonds, said the recent funding boost for children arriving into Kent as a result of extra financial pressures was an important recognition of councils’ struggles, but said it was vital that this arrangement “is now extended into a properly funded national scheme” to support all areas.

The Home Office confirmed just yesterday that the UK would be taking in more children in addition to the planned 20,000 figure by 2020, but did not specify how many. It did, however, reject proposals from charities and campaigners that the country should take in 3,000 more children.

The government also intends to release another £10m to support migrants settled in Europe.

The LGA’s refugee task group reiterated the importance of phasing any increasing settlement programme over time, as well as planning it in full partnership with local authorities to ensure services are able to cope.

“Any scheme would also need to provide sufficient funding and be aligned to existing schemes for resettling refugees and asylum seeking children to ensure there is sufficient capacity to support vulnerable children,” Simmonds added.

“In particular, we need to ensure local areas can recruit and train enough foster carers to provide the support and care needed by this particularly vulnerable group.”

(Top image: Refugees from near Damascas. AP Photo, Kerstin Joensson)

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