Child refugee arrivals in UK ‘sparks last-minute panic’ because Home Office refused to make plan

Growing anger after some children are placed in foster care – and even a detention centre – because background checks on family members have not been carried out

Rob Merrick
Sunday 23 October 2016 10:58 BST
The refugee camp in Calais, which is due to be demolished tomorrow
The refugee camp in Calais, which is due to be demolished tomorrow (Getty)

The arrival of child refugees from Calais has become a chaotic last-minute “panic” because the Home Office refused to prepare a plan, it has been claimed.

The first unaccompanied minors arrived in the UK late last night after the Government finally delivered on a promise first demanded by Parliament back in May.

But there was growing anger that – despite all the refugees allowed into Britain last week having relatives in the UK – only a few have been settled with family members.

Instead, some have been placed in foster care because the required background checks on family members have not been conducted.

It was also reported that some children have been forced to stay at a controversial former immigration detention centre called Cedars, near Gatwick Airport.

Cedars was shut by the Government in July after criticism of the policy of imprisoning children and family awaiting removal from the country.

Dismantling the vast camp in France will begin tomorrow, to clear the estimated 6,500 inhabitants who will be driven by bus to reception centres across France.

The charity Help Refugees said it had been granted the go-ahead to take legal action over Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s failure to implement the Dubs amendment, to admit the most vulnerable unaccompanied children.

Meanwhile, leaked emails from Home Office officials revealed growing panic as civil servants sent pleas for “urgent help” to residential care services.

A source told The Observer: “Politically, the Home Office did not want this to happen, so it didn't do anything.

“Therefore, as the camp comes to closure it's a panic – all the work you should have done over three to six months you do over three to six hours.

“They cannot place the child in a number of cases because none of the checks have been done.”

Andy Elvin, chief executive of Tact, the UK’s biggest fostering and adoption charity, said: “It's embarrassing for a developed nation not to have managed this more professionally. We’re not even talking about a massive number of children.”

A plan was drawn up six months ago and agreed two months ago by the Local Government Association (LGA), which offered to send social workers to Calais to carry out assessments.

A comprehensive database of eligible minors in the camp would have been created, well ahead of its demolition.

But the LGA said the Home Office did not take up the offer and only started asking for specialist help on Friday – after some of the first 60 refugees had arrived.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's asylum, refugee and migration taskforce, told the Sunday Telegraph: “We made the offer in August and the Home Office didn't take it up at the time.

“The offer was not taken up quickly enough. I understand that, on Friday, the Home Office started asking Kent for social workers with experience in age assessment.

“But we offered our help three months ago. I am aware they were trying to talk to people on Friday to get help after all.”

A Home Office source told the newspaper that the support had not been needed when it was offered in August.

Some of the first wave of arrivals this week provoked fierce rows over claims that some males looked older than teenagers.

Tory MP David Davies was strongly criticised after calling for dental checks to establish how old they were – something experts insisted would not be accurate.

Screens have since been used to keep the refugees hidden from public view after arriving at a Home Office building in Croydon, south London, from the muddy, rat-infested slum in northern France.

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