Councils failing to care for asylum children

Refuge children in the so-called 'Calais Jungle' hoping to reach Britain

The Home Office’s racist ‘hostile environment’ continues to take its toll on immigrant children in Britain. Those with complex immigration issues are regularly receiving insufficient care from local authorities. Councils across the country are failing to take action quickly enough to provide support to young immigrants, or failing to identify them altogether. Many of those fortunate enough to even receive care have been left isolated by a conveyor belt of new social workers. The British state is intensifying its attacks on vulnerable immigrants and asylum seekers. Benjamin White reports.

The conditions that unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) are forced to contend with are increasingly under attack. According to figures published in The Independent, lone children are waiting one month on average to be resettled, with some cases taking three to five months. With increasing delays, lone minors are more likely to go missing from authority care, and find it more difficult to access education, legal advice and healthcare.

The recently introduced National Transfer Scheme protocol states that local authorities should be capping the number of UASC in their care at 0.07% of their entire child population. This has the result of shifting young mig­rants between councils, creating a revolving door of different social workers. Children are often left alone with the challenge of navigating Britain’s intentionally complex immigration system.

Many of these children embarked on the perilous journey from camps in Calais and Dunkirk, where the number of UASC has risen after the government abandoned its ‘Dubs amendment’ last year. This has formally limited the number of unaccompanied child refugees accepted into Britain at just 480. In the first half of 2018, 1,173 unaccompanied children applied for asylum with the Home Office, with 2,399 applications made in total the year before. Almost 30% of these originated from Sudan and neighbouring Eritrea, forced to flee from a region driven into ruin by British and US imperialism.

Despite claiming to have a duty of care to UASC, local authorities are routinely failing to address the trauma and welfare issues that these vulnerable lone minors face. Since November 2017 four Eritrean teenagers are known to have taken their own lives in London, all of whom arrived from the so-called ‘Calais Jungle’. Severe mental health issues are rife amongst lone child refugees. After the harrowing experience of fleeing to Britain from Eritrea, people close to the young men told the press that their trauma was exacerbated by the lengthy application process for refugee status. As the Children’s Commissioner reported last year: ‘Testimony from migrant children demonstrates how the experience of uncertainty and waiting leads to a state of paralysis and depression, seriously undermining their wellbeing.’

The Home Office claims not to deport anyone back to Eritrea; however, without being granted refugee status, asylum seekers are unable to work or study, and face the threat of being sent to detention centres if they fail to leave Britain ‘voluntarily’. The fact that the Home Office calls being hounded out of the country in fear of indefinite detention a voluntary decision only highlights the contempt they have for migrants and refugees.

It comes as no surprise to see that Labour councils are among those abandoning lone migrant children. In 2016 an investigation by the local government and social care ombudsman found that Labour-run Green­wich Council ‘failed to act appropriately and in a timely manner’ to help a young Nigerian in their care regularise her immigration status. Had they provided sufficient support, her application for leave to remain would have been as a child, which would have increased the likelihood of success.

Clearly Britain’s state racism is responsible for systemic attacks on the welfare of UASC; however the hostility towards migrant children stretches far beyond its care system. Migrant children are con­sist­ently denied access to basic assistance, even if they themselves were born in the country. Chil­dren whose parents have no recourse to public funds or no leave to remain are deprived of free school meals and financial support for transport or uniform.

Elsewhere, British immigration auth­orities continue to separate children from detained parents. The exact numbers are unknown; however some sources estimate that hundreds of children are separated from their carers each year. This year the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees has reported a significant increase in the number of separated parents it represents. In certain cases this separation has resulted in families being torn apart either by children being taken into care or by parents deported from the country.

Migrant labour is necessary for Brit­ish capitalism, however in the eyes of the ruling class migrant children are a burden on the state. Both Labour and Tory councils across the board are succeeding in relegating unaccompanied asylum seeking children to second class citizens. Immigration controls and the ‘hostile environment’ deliberately target the working class; they act solely in the interest of capitalism.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 267, December 2018/January 2019


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