Schools prepare for arrival of ‘hundreds’ of child refugees

Schools are being told to prepare for the arrival of hundreds of child refugees over the coming months following the closure of the Jungle camp in Calais.

According to councils, more than 200 unaccompanied young refugees arrived last month after the camp’s closure in October.

But local government leaders have called for better support and information for schools after being told that “hundreds” of unaccompanied child refugees are due to arrive in the next few months.

“The Home Office has said we are expecting numbers in the high hundreds in the next few months, depending largely on the actions of the French government,” David Simmonds, the deputy leader of Hillingdon council and chair of the Local Government Association’s refugee task group told Schools Week.

“In my view, there often isn’t enough support or information for schools, particularly for children who might arrive in circumstances in which their back story isn’t known,” he said. “We would like to see a lot more rigour at the point of entry to the UK, so schools can have a better idea of what is going on.”

Efforts to find homes and school places for refugees are made through a national transfer scheme, but MPs are frustrated about how long this is taking.

It cannot be in the best interests of a child to put nationality before need

Councils do not have to take the refugees, which leaves those that have opted in to the scheme bearing the brunt of the influx. As of May, 103 local authorities had signed up.

Politicians say that many of the refugees are still in France, with Labour MP Stella Creasy (pictured) telling parliament on Monday of her concerns about nationality being one of the criteria for accepting children.

She was referring to a Home Office decision to prioritise, among other factors, children belonging to nationalities most likely to qualify for refugee status in the UK.

“It cannot be in the best interests of a child to put nationality before need,” Creasy told parliament on Monday, warning that goodwill had “slowly ebbed away”, with the scheme failing to match MPs’ “desired” outcome of seeing refugees transferred quickly.

The camp in Calais, once home to thousands, was closed by the French authorities on October 26, prompting an acceleration in the numbers of vulnerable children arriving in England.

On top of a pledge made by David Cameron last year that the UK would resettle 20,000 vulnerable adults and children from Syria by 2020, unaccompanied children are also expected to make up a proportion of 3,000 refugees admitted under the EU’s Dublin III regulation.

An amendment to the law by Labour peer Lord Dubs earlier this year also commits the government to taking unaccompanied minors stuck in camps in France, Greece and Italy, although there is no official target of how many should be allowed in.

Edward Timpson, the children’s minister, said on Monday that all children aged 12 and under, those assessed by the French government as being at high risk of sexual exploitation and those nationalities most likely to qualify for refugee status in the UK were eligible to be transferred from Calais.

“As the Dubs amendment makes clear, children transferred should be refugees, and the best interests of the child are established in every case as part of the process,” he said, adding that a method was needed to ensure that children “at greatest risk” were prioritised.

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