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Councillors urge greater co-ordination on refugee crisis ahead of Calais camp visit

Local authorities are asking for greater national co-ordination around the issue of refugees just a day before a delegation of senior councillors from the LGA set off to visit the ‘Calais Jungle’ migrant camp.

The senior councillors will meet with the mayor of Calais and their European counterparts this Thursday to consolidate the talks they have been having “for some time” about the response to the refugee crisis, in parallel with ongoing talks between national governments.

According to the LGA, tomorrow’s visit gives councillors the opportunity to further build those relationships, share ideas and expertise, and discuss the needs of displaced children and young people who may need the UK’s help.

Ahead of the visit, they have come together in a statement to call for greater co-ordination around this growing issue, particularly to ensure the many public offers to foster or support refugee children are directed to their local authorities. They have also argued that more carers are “urgently needed” to provide stable homes for these vulnerable people.

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s asylum, refugee and migration task group, added that it is “imperative” children are kept safe wherever they currently are across Europe.

“Many children will require care and support packages directly from councils or their partners if they are not able to be relocated with existing family in Europe or the UK,” he said. “If children do come to the UK, councils want to get it right so that children who have experienced horrendous conditions within and since fleeing their country of origin are able to settle into UK life as quickly and easily as possible with ongoing support made available when they need it.

“Ideally, councils will work alongside government and their partners to assess children and agree their needs before they enter the UK.”

Over 4,000 lone children are now claiming asylum and coming into the care of UK councils after arriving in the country, with local authorities working to ensure enough care packages are available for all children in their care.

They are also responsible for supporting large numbers of kids in impoverished families whose asylum applications were refused by the Home Office but who remain in the country and rely on local services, as well as children supported by the Syrian resettlement programme.

Cllr Simmonds continued: “Since the plight of Syrian refugees hit the media last year, there has been an outpouring of sentiment shown by the British public. This needs to turn into practical help. National co-ordination is essential to share intelligence around foster care capacity.

“However, this has to be built on the understanding that the vast majority of unaccompanied asylum seeking children are not particularly young. In fact, in most cases, they are young people in their late teens, many of whom have experienced a great deal of trauma. For those unable to foster, councils can also use their help supporting new arrivals, such as mentoring or work experience, or people can volunteer with a local or national charity.”

Today’s calls for greater co-ordination come shortly after the Home Affairs Select Committee identified a ‘two-tier’ system developing between local authorities who provide support for asylum seekers and those who do not.

The committee found that despite a target to take in 20,000 refugees by 2020, just 71 local authorities have so far accepted any refugees under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.

It recommended that the government be “much more proactive” in encouraging a fairer distribution of refugees, with ministers needing to take the lead on this by encouraging their own councils to accept a fair share.

(Top image c.Kerstin Joensson)


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