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23.12.15

Councils demand more cash to handle patchy child refugee support

Councils are demanding more financial help to bear the brunt of the mammoth Syrian child refugee crisis after an investigation found that just ten councils have already spent nearly £200m in the past five years.

The investigation, conducted by the Sun, surveyed ten local authorities to examine their expenditure on supporting asylum-seeking children. In the last year alone, these ten councils spent almost £40m on around 1,160 kids.

The LGA argued that it is not sustainable to “leave a small number of port authority councils to look after large numbers of refugee children”. It says the government has already accepted this argument when it comes to adults, who have access to a national dispersal scheme. No such scheme exists for children.

The LGA’s asylum, migration and refugee task group chair, Cllr David Simmonds, said: “Supporting vulnerable children is one the most important things councils do, but it is not right that local authorities are left facing a significant financial burden when supporting these children.

“Councils are rightly proud of what unaccompanied children go on to achieve with their support, but the system needs to be properly resourced by government so that young people are not left vulnerable as a result of the complexities of national asylum policy.”

According to the Sun, the three councils that spent the most last year – at least in the pool of those surveyed – were Kent County Council, London Borough of Hillingdon and Croydon Council. These house the Port of Dover, Heathrow and Lunar House, where, according to the paper, all asylum bids are made.

As a result, even if an asylum-seeking child is given shelter elsewhere, the original council must cover costs. Smaller authorities such as Hillingdon often face higher costs that larger councils because of this, the paper claimed – which the LGA claimed “is not right”.

Helen Johnson, from the Refugee Council, told the paper that these children have often fled “unimaginable horrors overseas” and endured “frightening and dangerous journeys”.

“It is essential that their needs come first and that local authorities are supported to provide the specialist care that these children are entitled to and desperately require,” she added.

Just a week ago, charter flights bringing in Syrian refugees – children or otherwise – brought the country’s resettlement headcount to 1,000, just about meeting the prime minister’s original pledge.

Earlier this week, the minister for Syrian refugees, Richard Harrington, thanked local authorities and partner organisations in the south east for their help in meeting the government’s pledge.

Speaking at the Local Government House in Westminster – “the first of several similar events set to take place across the country in 2016”, according to Whitehall – Harrington reiterated plans to resettle another 19,000 people.

“There is still a great deal of work to do as we offer protection and a new start to a total of 20,000 vulnerable Syrians over the course of this Parliament,” he said.

“The ongoing support and co-operation of local authorities, NGOs and others will be essential as we expand the resettlement scheme further in the coming months.”

(Top image c. AP Photo, Kerstin Joensson)

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