West Lothian Council offers refuge to teen asylum seekers

West Lothian has provided refuge to two teenage asylum seekers as part of a new national scheme introduced late last year.

By Stuart Sommerville, LDR
Monday, 10th January 2022, 2:48 pm
Afghan refugees pictured fleeing the country last year. Photo: Getty.
Afghan refugees pictured fleeing the country last year. Photo: Getty.

The UK Government made it mandatory for councils across the country to provide homes for refugees after local authorities in the south east of England came under pressure from ever increasing numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat across the Channel. Councils such as Kent found resources stretched to the limit in providing accommodation.

West Lothian has a well-established programme of voluntarily providing accommodation and help for asylum seekers, while some Scottish authorities had refused to take people until the scheme was made mandatory.

West Lothian has offered shelter to those escaping the conflict in Syria and, last year, refugees fleeing the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In a report to the council’s Social Policy Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel (PDSP) Susan Mitchell, senior manager, children’s services said: “West Lothian has a history of providing support to children and young people who were either Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC) or subject to trafficking.

“In 2020-21, 15 UASC were being looked after in West Lothian. For the most part young people in these circumstances are accommodated in the council’s internal residential provision to enable staff to complete a human rights and age assessment if necessary. They are treated the same as any looked-after child and subject to the same child protection and looked after child processes. Staff are trained in these assessments and also utilise interpreters as required.”

Responding to a questions from Councillor Moira Shemilt, Mrs Mitchel said that while those looked after were aged 16/17 they were termed as “unaccompanied children". She added that the two who had arrived here in December had been helped with supported accommodation. Both have expressed an interest in learning English and attending college. Social workers have been assigned to the two teens to help them settle.

A new National Transfer Scheme rota was introduced in Scotland from October 2021, based on the same weighted approach being taken in the English regions.

This resulted in a commitment for Scottish councils to take 45 young people out of every ‘cycle’ of 650 requiring placements through the scheme.

Not all local authorities agreed to voluntarily participate in the new scheme, which had an impact on participating local authorities such as West Lothian, as they were asked to identify additional suitable placements.

On 23 November the UK Government served notice on councils across the UK that they are now be required to participate in the scheme for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Mrs Mitchell’s report added: “This decision has been taken as a result of the scale of arrivals via small boats on the English Channel. The Minister has stated that there is a need to make the scheme mandatory in order that every local authority in the UK plays its part in managing this crisis.”

Under the mandatory rota, Scotland has been allocated 44 UASC placements per 652 cases, and all local authorities have received notification of their allocation.

Under the previous scheme West Lothian was originally allocated 2 UASCplacements per 650, under the new mandatory NTS this has changed to 1 UASC per 652.