Headlines: February 1st, 2008

Councils are calling for a radical overhaul of the system for supporting unaccompanied children who are seeking asylum. In a response to the consultation process, ‘Planning Better Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children’, the Local Government Association branded present arrangements unfair.

The Home Office has said it wants better procedures for identifying and supporting unaccompanied children who are the victims of trafficking as well as a system of specialist local authorities to ensure the children receive only the services they need. It is also proposing new measures to assess age in order to ensure children and adults are not accommodated together and to ensure there are faster decisions on immigration status.

Commenting on the proposals, Roger Lawrence, who chairs the LGA’s Association’s Asylum and Refugee Task Group and the multi-agency UASC Reform Steering Group, said, “The current method is unfair, outdated and under-resourced. The proposals published today are a step in the right direction but Government must remember that these young people are children first and foremost.”

Councillor Lawrence said local authorities were caught in a conflict between immigration laws and children’s rights laws. He called for the proposals to locate unaccompanied asylum seeking children only with specialist authorities to be tested through pilots. “Councils that become specialist authorities must be properly funded, including investment from the Government for the cost of continuing to care for young people until the age of 21,” he said.

The LGA accepts that children and families whose requests for asylum fail need to be removed, but it wants to see a process for doing this that is sensitive as well as effective and it believes children should always be offered care and support while an application is being processed.