How 'child' migrants are straining the care system - and British children are paying the price
Some time ago, I was sitting at a table with ten foster parents in West London. I had been told such parents were in short supply, so it was with shock that I learned that nine of them were not looking after vulnerable British youngsters — but unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
There was a further, even more disturbing, revelation. Three of these children were not children at all. They were adult men posing as boys. The foster parents seemed to take the situation for granted, even joking drily about it.
Some admitted they found it awkward having a young man in the house who was probably 25 but claiming to be 17. But they had no proof and the authorities did not seem interested. ‘We just have to put up with the situation,’ sighed one.
Three young migrants who arrived in Britain from France yesterday
Their stories seemed especially pertinent this week when I saw those pictures of ‘child’ migrants arriving at the immigration registration centre in Croydon, fresh off a coach from the Calais Jungle. They had all claimed to be under 18, yet most looked considerably older, with facial hair, muscular physiques and an adult look to their faces.
Yet to some people working in the care system to whom I spoke, their appearance came as no surprise.
Yesterday, I talked to a worker in a residential home in Kent for children in care. Speaking on condition of anonymity, she told me that half of the children in care there are unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
And it goes without saying that places in these homes are precious and much in demand. Yet she told me that in her estimation more than half the migrants are not children at all, but in their 20s.
‘They can be quite frightening at times,’ she said. ‘They are aggressive and have an attitude problem. Many have no respect for women because of their culture.
‘No one is giving consideration to the risks they pose, not just to staff but to the other children in the home. Because they are older, they have a lot of influence on the youngsters, who are very vulnerable. They introduce the children to alcohol and get them into crime like street robberies. It is a serious problem, which those in authority are not tackling.’
In considering the dangers of letting into the country young men posing as children, we need to look at Sweden and Germany in recent times.
Last week pop star Lily Allen apologised ‘on behalf of Britain’ for the plight of migrant children in the Calais camp
Both countries have also seen a significant rise in ‘child’ migrant numbers. On average, 90 boys without parents entered Sweden every single day in 2015 — more than half of them claiming to be 16 or 17.
In Dusseldorf last year, two migrants, who said they were 15 and 17, sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl and threatened to cut the throat of a six-year-old witness. Police admit they have no idea of their real age.
In Sweden, a care worker was murdered at a centre used to house 14 to 17-year-old asylum seekers. She had told her mother she was having to deal with ‘big powerful’ men in their 20s claiming to be children. Indeed, the ‘15-year-old’ accused of her murder shaves and has a moustache.
Meanwhile, when the Norwegian government insisted on dental examinations for unaccompanied asylum-seeker children arriving in the country, it was found that nine out of ten were, in fact, over 18.
Last year in Britain, nearly two-thirds of ‘child’ refugees quizzed about their real age were found to be adults, according to the Home Office. Of course, there are some genuine children in the Calais Jungle, for example, who are self-evidently well under 18, which is why the Mail has campaigned for them to be let into this country.
Special rights and privileges are granted to those under 18 who claim asylum in Britain, in terms of the care provision they are given.
Migrants from the Jungle rush the fence surrounding the motorway leading to the ferry terminal in Calais
Older migrants — who usually destroy any identity documents — clearly know this, hence the temptation to lie about their ages.
According to Eurostat, in 2015 3,045 unaccompanied minors claimed asylum here, of whom 91 per cent were male and only 8 per cent were under 14.
One of the problems with such numbers of new arrivals is the effect they have on the most vulnerable children already in our care system.
They now have to compete with the new arrivals for precious resources in facilities and staff.
By law, local councils are responsible for looking after children taken into care (the majority from abusive or neglectful parents) and now they have the added burden of caring for young people seeking asylum.
The local authority must look after them until the age of 25 if they are in full-time education — including any university costs.
And that is the problem. There are a limited number of foster parents to go around, not enough places to live and, above all, limited funds.
Kent is just one of many counties that is feeling the strain — but it is suffering most because it has the ports where thousands of refugees and migrants arrive from across the Channel.
For this reason, Kent cares for 1,350 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.
A migrant walks past closed shops and restaurants in the northern part of the Jungle
Councillor Peter Oakford, head of Kent’s children’s services, points out: ‘This continues to put pressure on our services and finances, and we are concerned about the impact the closure of the Calais camps will have on the number of unaccompanied children attempting to enter the UK through Kent.’
And guess who suffers? Councillor Oakford is clear. Due to the influx of migrant children, he now has to send Kentish children taken into care to live outside Kent, far away from relatives, friends and the school they have known. This ‘is not a good position to be in and not a position we want to be in,’ he says bluntly.
Other councils are seeing dizzying rises. A Freedom of Information request by Community Care Magazine revealed numbers of unaccompanied children being looked after by local authorities, excluding Kent, increased by an average of 55 per cent from 2013-14 to 2014-15.
Birmingham experienced the largest rise, an increase of 650 per cent, but admittedly from a low base — from six to 45 young people.
At the same time, the Government is slashing council grants. One head of children’s services in a London council said his grant is set to halve. ‘We have a smaller piggy bank to cover larger numbers.’
One social worker explained who loses out. She said they have ‘moved away’ from providing a service to the British children in their care. ‘Instead we are dealing with problems fairly unique to young asylum seekers, such as what their legal status is, and visits to the Home Office and so on.’
Migrant teenagers arrive in Croydon from the Jungle camp yesterday
She added angrily: ‘This at the expense of our own 16 to 17-year-old teenagers who are leaving care but who still need a lot of support and are not getting it.’
The numbers of migrants are rising because of instability in the Middle East and African countries — where as much as 70 per cent of the population are under 30, and want to seek economic salvation in Europe.
Regardless of their reasons for trying to get to Britain, many on the Left have called for all migrants to be let into Britain.
On a visit to Calais, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘We must reach out the hand of humanity to the victims of war and brutal repression.’
In similar vein, last week pop star Lily Allen apologised ‘on behalf of Britain’ for the plight of migrant children in the Calais camp.
Unfortunately in the grim world of trafficking, says former immigration officer Alp Mehmet, of the research body Migration Watch UK, criminal trafficking gangs view such generosity as ‘a weakness to be exploited’. They encourage more families to send their offspring to Britain ‘in growing numbers’.
Many of the youngsters whose families pay for them to come here — who may well be in their 20s but claim to be teenagers — are sent on flights into Britain and are instructed to say they are orphans so they are taken into care.
As one immigration officer with 20 years’ experience explained to me: ‘Ninety per cent of them are not orphans. Their coming here is very well worked out. Their families have paid the people-traffickers to bring them here,’ he added. ‘The intention is for the families to follow shortly after. For the most part, they are not fleeing for their lives.
‘For years, we have had adult Pakistani males arriving in this country maintaining they are Afghan teenagers. They claim to be 13 or 14 but they are clearly over 20, with good facial hair.’ Alp Mehmet, of Migration Watch UK, agrees that this ruse of claiming to be a child to get into the country is ‘fairly widespread’.
The immigration officer explained that thorough age-checks no longer take place at British airports.
‘There was a time,’ he said, ‘when we had a doctor stationed at the port health office in the airport, who could make an age-assessment by looking at the claimant’s teeth and face.’
But such doctors no longer exist. ‘They were removed a few years ago, just as the increasing numbers of asylum kids kicked off,’ he added.
‘Now we just call a social worker, but there is nothing they can do [in terms of deciding what to do] until the young person has had a scientific age-assessment.’ And, inevitably, that takes time to organise. So, instead of the migrant being detected as ‘over-age’ from the point they arrive in Britain, the social worker will place the ‘child’ with a temporary foster family or a care home. ‘They abscond almost immediately, often within the hour,’ said the immigration officer.
Sometimes, the migrants who say they are teenagers are accompanied by their traffickers on the flight. These men charge a high price for the service.
The immigration officer knows many of them by sight. They are often young men who mysteriously are able to travel ten times a year from Britain to Dubai and Africa. But since they have British or EU passports, immigration officials can do nothing about them.
‘I have no power to detain a British citizen longer than five minutes,’ said the immigration officer, ‘otherwise my bosses upstairs will kick off. I can do nothing without the traffickers’ consent. Absolutely nothing — and they know that.’
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