Newly arrived child refugees from Calais are being forced to live in a controversial former detention centre because the Home Office refused to enact a resettlement strategy to safely house unaccompanied minors.
Despite months of warnings from the French authorities that the Calais camp would close, the Home Office elected not to act on a plan designed and agreed by local councils to ensure vulnerable child refugees were adequately housed when they came to Britain.
So far only child refugees with relatives in the UK have been allowed to enter.
Last week more than 60 unaccompanied minors arrived in London from Calais to cheers from well-wishers, but a hostile response from some politicians and newspapers.
Leaked emails sent from Home Office officials last week exposed panic inside the department because officials had not properly prepared for them: civil servants sent pleas for “urgent help” to residential care services, stressing the issue was “time critical due to the need to bring the children here prior to the camp being dismantled”.
The failure to prepare adequately means some child refugees have been forced to stay at a “pre-departure” immigration detention unit called Cedars, near Gatwick airport. Cedars was shut by the government in July following criticism over the policy of imprisoning children and family awaiting removal from the country. (See previous article dated 8 August 2016.)
Another negative side-effect of the Home Office’s approach has meant that, despite all the Calais child refugees allowed into Britain having relatives in the UK, only a few have been settled with family members. Instead, a number of younger unaccompanied minors have been placed in foster care because the required background checks on family members have not been conducted.
A source close to the process said: “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 largest fostering and adoption charity with more than 500 carers, 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.”
The plan was drawn up six months ago and agreed two months ago by the Local Government Association and adoption services, although discussions go back as far as September 2015. A document entitled “Processing unaccompanied minors” was drawn up following the meeting in which the need is stressed for a comprehensive database of eligible minors to be created.
During a previous partial clearance of the Calais camp in March 2016, 129 children went missing.
A spokesman for the Home Office said it would not comment on the specifics of resettlement programmes.