Funding fears for future of Calais children and Syrian refugees in London

Photograph: Metropolico.org (Creative Commons)
Photograph: Metropolico.org (Creative Commons)

Concerns are mounting that London councils’ efforts to help unaccompanied children arriving in the capital are being frustrated by a lack of certainty over government funding.

Several hundred children have already arrived in the UK from the “Jungle” camp in Calais, and hundreds more unaccompanied minors are expected to come into the country over the next three weeks following the dismantling of the camp.

Cllr Claire Kober, the chair of London Councils, wrote to Home Secretary Amber Rudd last week demanding urgent assurances from the government that it would hand councils the cash they need to cover costs involved in supporting Calais children.

She said: “We will work around the clock to give these desperately vulnerable children a safe home and the support they need to rebuild their lives.

“Now we urgently need assurances from government that they will give councils the funding they need to provide the necessary support in London.”

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Asylum, Refugee and Migration Task Group, called for “long-term funding arrangements” to ensure that money earmarked for helping unaccompanied asylum seeking children would not dry up.

The calls echo warnings by John Biggs, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, who said he was frustrated over the “bloody slow” progress of a separate scheme designed specifically for Syrian refugees languishing in camps elsewhere in the Middle East.

Several London councils have signed up to the government’s Syrian Resettlement Programme (SRP).

But Biggs said last month: “I think the government has been somewhat mealy mouthed about its promise, and secondly they are trying to disperse these families to lower cost parts of the country.

“There’s a limited amount we can do in the absence of funding and sponsorship.”

Zoe Gardner from Asylum Aid, a charity that represents people seeking sanctuary in the UK, also said there were concerns about future funding around the SRP – and she suggested other, similar schemes could too be jepordised because of a lack of money.

She said: “The government is only providing guaranteed funds for the first year [of the SPR] to cover the cost of hosting these families, when obviously there might be costs that extend beyond that first period – and there’s no guarantee it won’t be the local council footing the bill.”

She added: “The spaces for resettlement in this country are ludicrously low as compared to the number of refugees who are living in desperate conditions.”

Whitehall provides local authorities with around £8,000 per refugee accepted into their area under the SRP scheme for the first 12 months of their stay, with money coming from the overseas aid budget.

The Home Office insists councils will be able to apply for other types of funding after the first year and has said local authorities will not be left unsupported.

The government also says it has increased funding to councils for providing care for unaccompanied children by more than a fifth.

The number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children living in England increased by more than 60 per cent to over 4,000 in the last year, and there have been increases in their numbers in London.

Most unaccompanied children seeking sanctuary in the UK are first referred for support by the immigration service in Croydon, and local authorities in London then provide necessary support.

A Hackney Council meeting last night heard reports of “increasing demand” for services from adult asylum seekers who have caring responsibilities for children as well as “considerable pressure on costs” for the council as a result.

Mohammed Kamal al-Wadi, a Syrian national who arrived in the UK to claim asylum in early 2012 and slept rough in Hyde Park, said he has now been sent outside of the capital, to Essex, by Westminster Council.

He told London Citizen: “If I was in Syria, I would probably be dead.”

However, he also said Arab countries needed to do more to help refugees in the region.

He said: “Arabs are my brothers. They should help me, not England.”

The government says it is providing billions in aid to countries outside of the EU that are at the frontline of coping with the masses of refugees who have fled, and continue to flee, warzones.

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