Monday, 24 October 2016

Providing support to young people arriving from Calais refugee camps

At Full Council on Friday I took the opportunity to make a statement about the County Council’s role in supporting young people arriving from the Calais refugee camps.

You can read the statement here.

Two weeks ago the Home Office contacted us about its plans to respond to the closure of the Calais camps.

Provision has been identified where youngsters having been through an assessment centre in Croydon are able to rest before moving on to their relatives and families across the UK.

All this work – along with the costs – is being co-ordinated nationally through the Home Office, and as a County Council we are playing our part in responding to a humanitarian crisis.

Due to the nature of the work with the Home Office and other agencies, and due to the need to respect the privacy of the families involved, I am not able to name the locations involved in these arrangements.

When these unaccompanied young people come into our county, even for a short time, we have statutory duties and responsibilities for them – wherever they come from.

These youngsters have been in camps in Calais for up to two years. It is hard to imagine what their lives have been like in these camps – certainly there have been some very worrying and disturbing stories and I think this is no way for any child to live for a sustained period of time.

Many young people have been sent by their parents through traffickers. As a mother it is hard to imagine giving up one’s child but in war torn countries offering little future any parent would in desperation want to secure a safer future for their child.

As of Friday afternoon a small number of young people had come to West Sussex and were waiting to begin the next part of their journey to join family members across the UK.

None of these young people have relatives in West Sussex. These children are here under ‘Dublin III’ regulations, an agreement that children with family connections will have a place in the UK.

There are also young people who are entitled to come to the UK under the ‘Lord Dub’s amendment’ in the House of Commons. These are younger children but with no family connections.

To me, supporting a humanitarian crisis where young people are involved is the right thing to do and something that the country has a long history of doing. As a County Council we are playing a very minor role.

Having spoken to some young people who have come in unaccompanied from Gatwick I have been struck by their gratitude and desire as one person told me “to payback” all that they have been given.

Those who are working directly with these youngsters report they are exhausted and overwhelmed but very much looking forward to being reunited with their families.

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