Local political leaders visit 'Calais jungle'
A delegation of senior councillors from the Local Government Association (LGA) will meet with the Mayor of Calais and visit the ‘Calais Jungle' migrant camp tomorrow (18 August), to consider how local government in England and France can support each other to keep unaccompanied children and young people safe and ensure they receive the care and support they need.
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils across England and Wales, has for some time been liaising with its counterparts in other European countries about the response to the refugee crisis, in parallel with discussions between national governments. Tomorrow's visit gives councillors the chance to further build those relationships, sharing ideas and expertise and discussing the needs of children who may come to the UK for help.
The number of lone children claiming asylum and coming into the care of councils after their arrival in the UK now stands at over 4,000, and councils are working hard to make sure enough care packages and support systems are in place for all children in their care. Councils are also continuing to support large numbers of children in destitute families, whose asylum applications have been refused by the Home Office but who remain in the country and rely on council services, alongside a growing number of children in families supported by the Syrian programme and other schemes that support refugee resettlement.
Local authorities stand ready to provide further care for any additional children who are assessed as needing support in the UK, and the LGA supports the call of the Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, for French authorities to speed up the processing of lone child asylum seekers in the Calais refugee camp and settle them in new homes or reunite them with their families wherever possible.
Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA's Asylum, Refugee and Migration Task Group, said:
"It is imperative that 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. 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."
The LGA is also calling for greater national co-ordination to ensure that the many offers from the public to foster or otherwise support these children are directed to their local authority, with more carers urgently needed to provide stable homes for vulnerable children and young people.
Cllr Simmonds continued:
"Councils rely heavily on foster carers to support many of the vulnerable children in their care and children's services departments have witnessed a significant shortage of carers across the country in recent years.
"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.
"Councils have great expertise in bringing communities together and will continue to do so as they welcome people into local areas."
16 August 2016
Senior Media Relations Officer
Local Government Association
Phone: 020 7664 3351