Council agrees asylum seeking children unaccompanied by adult could come to Falkirk

Asylum seeking children who come to the UK unaccompanied could find a home in Falkirk, councillors agreed today.

Tuesday, 9th November 2021, 4:44 pm
Fiona Collie

Members of Falkirk Council’s education, children and young people executive agreed that the district should take its share of the “unprecedented numbers” of unaccompanied children seeking asylum.

It is part of a national transfer scheme, which will see Scottish councils help to relieve some of the pressure on councils in the south east of England, who are facing very high numbers of arrivals they become legally responsible for.

Currently, there are around 5000 unaccompanied children seeking asylum across the UK, with 200 in Scotland.

Councillors heard that the majority of the young people arriving in the UK as asylum seekers are male, aged 16-17 years.

Falkirk’s chief social worker, Sara Lacey, told councillors: “They may have experienced very difficult and traumatic living circumstances, including time spent in refugee camps, separation from their families, being victims of human trafficking, physical and sexual abuse and their basic needs generally not being met.

“Supporting these young people is not just about accommodation and catering for their basic needs.”

She told the committee that the young people need support for learning and education, with a priority being looking after their mental health and wellbeing.

The national transfer scheme helped to facilitate the transfer of 1582 children between 2016 and March 2021.

But changes made to the scheme last year mean that there is now a rota system, with the whole of Scotland operating as a region.

When it is Scotland’s turn to take unaccompanied children, Falkirk will take two – with an absolute limit of 22 overall.

Councillor Fiona Collie said: “I’ve had a look at the numbers and in 2019, UNICEF estimated there were 33 million displaced children around the world – and an additional 2.4 million children displaced within their own countries.

“I can’t even get my head around that – that’s like half of the population of the UK is displaced.

“Around ten per cent of those children are refugees are in Europe.”

And, she pointed out, while children make up one-third of the population, they make up half of all the world’s refugees.

She added: “It’s worth noting that the majority of people seeking refuge are displaced within their own regions and countries such as Lebanon and Turkey host the largest number of refugees, relative to their population.

“These figures are only likely to increase as people flee Aghanistan to seek safety from the Taliban.”

She urged councillors to consider how vulnerable the young people were to trafficking, abuse and exploitation.

“I hate the idea of words like ‘rota’ and ‘transfer scheme’ – these are vulnerable young people who we can help and we should help.”

Councillors of all parties agreed that there would be financial challenges but that it was the right thing to do.

Funding is provided at a rate of £143 per child per night, although councillors heard this does not cover the full cost.

“The young people who will be coming to live in Falkirk under this scheme willbe valuable contributors to our communities and will bring with them uniqueattributes that will benefit our economy,” said Ms Lacey.