There was a sharp increase in people fleeing areas of conflict and heading to Europe in 2015. This has continued at a steady pace over the last few years. Most notably this is happening in the east and south of the continent and putting huge pressure on countries such as Greece and Italy. The European Union (EU) has made some attempt to help spread people across the rest of the continent. This has led to more people being accepted but, in parts of Europe, has led to increasing tensions between the existing population and the new arrivals.
Broadly speaking the tactics employed have enabled a number of people to resettle across Europe, however there are ‘pinch points’ (including at the Channel crossing between England and France), where people are living in increasingly poor conditions whilst trying to obtain access to richer economic areas, mainly in the north of the continent. This strategy, however, has done very little to dissuade people from trying to enter Europe and so there is a very real crisis still occurring.
Parliament debated a proposal to accept 3,000 child refugees into the UK from Europe in 2017. In response, the Government made a commitment to allow some of these children to be resettled in the UK by 2020, though they have not committed to the figure of 3,000. The Government has set aside funding to support resettling children having liaised with Save the Children and councils across the country. A system has been established for resettling unaccompanied children in those areas. It remains unclear what long term funding will be available from Government for resettlement or the longer term consequences of implementing the national system for placing children. Given the turbulence caused by plans to leave the European Union, it is also difficult to assess how these plans will change after March 31st, 2019.
The Local Government Association ( LGA) released a statement in February 2018 responding to the Government’s announcement that the UK is more than half way towards meeting its commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. Councils have been focusing on ensuring some of the most vulnerable families have access to help them recover from trauma and settle into schools and jobs.
The Council is committed to doing whatever it can to accommodate the greatest number of unaccompanied children and refugee families so long as the government has committed to providing the necessary support and funding to local councils to allow us to do this. Currently we are assessing the volume and cost of any potential influx to ensure we have sufficiency of accommodation and service learning from the pressures on the local market as County Councils such as Kent seek more provision for the people that have entered the UK at Dover. To date, taking on the 32 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) clients, has resulted in significant costs to the authority as a result of inadequate central Government funding. There are also further local unfunded costs arising through the care we are required to provide for young people moving into adulthood and the continuing partial funding of children already settled in Sutton.
In Sutton, we have a duty to welcome unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) who are identified within our geographical boundaries. Children who arrived with us through the “Dubs Amendment” were routed through the National Transfer Scheme for UASC. The aim of this scheme was to help evenly distribute the children in local authorities, regionally and nationally. To date, we have assisted 32 of unaccompanied children as planned. More information can be found under the government’s National Transfer Scheme. The Council is prepared to accept more children under a similar scheme should appropriate funding be made available.
The LGA recognises that, given the existing pressures arising from homelessness demand in London, many boroughs are faced with choice of directing scarce resources procured in the private sector from people already struggling to find accommodation to resettle refugees. Initiatives which increase the overall supply of affordable rented housing are required rather than those which shift supply from one needs group to another.
In Sutton, we exhibit precisely this tension. We received positive responses in the autumn of 2015 from some landlords with whom we work, to secure private rented housing for homeless families. However when we canvassed their views on the suggestion of referring Syrian refugees to them (on the proviso that the landlord will receive the requisite rent), the response was less enthusiastic. In Sutton, the number of households in temporary accommodation is 610 (November 2018).
The Council is committed to supporting refugees and migrants into our communities and has actively supported local faith groups in the good work they are undertaking as part of the Home Office Community Sponsorship Scheme. Furthermore it stands ready to support future iterations of the “Dubs Amendment” and similar schemes assuming adequate central Government funding is provided.