After expressing concern for the safety of unaccompanied children, councillors across all parties voted on Tuesday, 11 October to join other UK authorities in backing a campaign by the civil liberties organisation Liberty and Help Refugees to bring vulnerable lone children from inhumane camps in Europe to safety in the UK.
Councillors signed a pledge calling on central government to deliver funding to ensure authorities across the country can adequately meet the needs of asylum-seeking children placed in their care.
The pledge states: “We welcome the government’s commitment to create a resettlement scheme to bring unaccompanied refugee children in Europe to safety in the UK. We recognise and support the vital role that local councils can and should play in caring for children seeking sanctuary. We urge central government to provide funding to build the essential regional infrastructure necessary to secure the placement and support of children across the country and help us build them a brighter, safer future.”
Leader of Ealing Council, Julian Bell, who recently visited the camp in Calais, told the meeting that the borough is happy to do more to welcome its fair share of unaccompanied children but extra financial support is needed. The council has already taken 13 asylum seeking children since April.
Councillor Bell said: “Meeting children as young as nine or ten living in terrible conditions in Calais was heart-breaking. They were in immediate danger telling me how at nights fights broke out in the camp and they were extremely frightened. All they wanted was somewhere safe to sleep at night and be able to go to school.
“Local authorities are facing a financial challenge but we cannot ignore these children and leave them in such appalling and dangerous conditions.”
Councillors at the meeting also agreed that more local residents are needed to step forward to become foster carers, welcoming these vulnerable children into their homes.
Rachel Robinson, Policy Officer for Liberty, said: “Almost half a year ago the Government agreed to help lone refugee children stranded in European countries. Now, despite looming demolitions, these children remain in a dangerous limbo.
“Ealing is among a growing number of local authorities offering to play their part in safeguarding children in desperate need. The Government must now keep its word and put these children’s lives back on track.”
In May 2016, after pressure from Lord Dubs, the Government committed to work with local councils to bring unaccompanied refugee children in Europe to safety in the UK.
Liberty and Help Refugees are campaigning to hold the Government to account and make this pledge a reality.