In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) reaching the UK and claiming asylum. These children and young people become the responsibility of the local authority in which they present, which means the majority are looked after by the local authorities in London and the South of East of England that are close to major points of entry into the UK. There are however spontaneous arrivals of UASC within Scotland who are supported by Scottish local authorities.
In order to ease pressure on those local authorities with the most arrivals, the Home Office and the Department for Education in England has developed a voluntary transfer scheme to disperse UASC around the UK. Secondary legislation extending these provisions to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was passed on 7 February 2018. Scottish local authorities are now in a position to consider whether, and on what scale, they are able to participate in the voluntary scheme. This is a complex and challenging ask of local authorities which must consider their local circumstances, including capacity in the care system and all the wider demands on local authority services. There are also powers within the Immigration Act 2016 that could be used to compel local authorities to become involved. The National Transfer Scheme remains voluntary for local authorities, a Protocol for Scotland setting out how Scottish local authorities will interact with the scheme was published on 16 April 2018. This was jointly developed by the Home Office, COSLA and the working group to reflect Scottish circumstances and will be subject to continuing review.
The Immigration Act 2016 included a provision to resettle unaccompanied children from within Europe, specifically France, Greece and Italy. This is what is known as the Dubs Amendment to the Act. The UK Government announced that the numbers arriving under this Amendment would be capped at 480, this was achieved in 2020 and this route of transfer is now unavailable. Scottish local authorities supported a number of children and young people by this route who have been integrated into local communities across Scotland. It is possible that a replacement to this route of transfer will be agreed with EU countries following the UK exit from the EU.
In September 2020 the Home Office consulted on potential changes to the National Transfer Scheme. This was driven by the challenges in operating the current transfer scheme and the change in routes of arrival, created in part by the pandemic, creating a significant increase in the reliance of those seeking asylum using small boats to cross from France, creating particularly acute pressure for a very small number of local authorities in the UK. COSLA has been working with local authorities, UK and Scottish Government to develop an approach to both the UASC transfer scheme that is fit for purpose in Scotland. A working group of local authorities meets regularly to oversee work in this area. This has seen a focus on resources and capacity, the legislative platform, accommodation and support options for receiving UASC, the needs of the young people and an operational protocol which would be workable in a Scottish context. The Home Office has not yet given a formal response to the consultation, it is anticipated that following this there will be significant work required to support Scottish participation appropriately in the scheme.
Updated: 25th Janury 2021