Nottinghamshire County Council stops accepting transfers of lone refugee children

Nottinghamshire County Council has suspended a voluntary agreement to take in child asylum seekers from other areas, saying the Government does not give it enough money to look after them.

The authority withdrew from the national programme on Monday (July 17), despite a public protest and letter of appeal from a former child refugee who fled the Nazis to settle in Britain.

Around 40 people also protested outside County Hall in West Bridgford before the decision was made.

A report to the children and young people’s committee had outlined how taking care of children who arrive from other UK areas already stretched, or who are already in care overseas, is costing the council £44,000 a year per child.

But the Government only contributes an average of £30,231 per child towards this, the council says, leaving it £14,000 short every time it accepts a transfer.

The voluntary scheme was set up to more evenly spread rising numbers of lone children under 18 arriving in Europe and the UK – some of whom have fled conflict in North Africa, Syria and the wider Middle East without their parents.

Ten children have arrived over the last year – seven who were already in other parts of the country under the National Transfer Scheme and three who transferred directly from camps overseas, under what is known as the ‘Dubs’ programme.

Councillor Phillip Owen, chair of the committee, said: “It no longer makes financial sense and the money will be better spent providing services to local children.

“It is nonsense to say the moral argument overrides the financial argument, the money has got to come from somewhere,” he said.

“If we are spending this amount of money on that particular scheme we can’t spend it on our own young people.”

The council will continue to accept lone children who are first discovered while inside the county, such as in hiding during transport.

Labour members of the committee had argued the council’s Conservative leadership were a Nottinghamshire reputation of being a “beacon of compassion in the Midlands”.

Labour Councillor John Peck accused the administration of a “nasty, petty, mean-minded, despicable act”.

“It’s small numbers but we have our moral duty to do our bit as a local authority,” he said.

Syrian refugee children at a clinic in Jordan in 2013. The UN estimates around three million people had fled fighting in Syria by the end of August 2014 alone. (Photo: UK Department for International Development)

Labour Councillor Mike Pringle read out a letter written to the committee by Lord Arthur Dubs, 84, who fled the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia for Britain on the ‘kindertransport’​ evacuation of mainly Jewish children from parts of Europe before the outbreak if the Second World War.

He said the council was asking “to deliberately block unaccompanied refugee children from having a safe home in a country where they are entitled to find sanctuary”.

The committee voted six to four in favour of suspending its membership of the scheme, while lobbying the Government for more money before it potentially re-joins.

The meeting, at the main council chamber inside County Hall, paused briefly when some protesters who watched from the public gallery shouted out and at one point were involved in a brief exchange with Cllr Owen.

One cried: “How do you sleep at night?”. Cllr Owen replied: “Very well.”

After the meeting he added: “I don’t think it’s an unpopular decision amongst majority of the people of Nottinghamshire – this is about safeguarding spending on the young people of Nottinghamshire.

“They [the asylum seekers] have not been turned away, they will remain in other counties and they are perfectly safe there – it’s about looking after the children of Nottinghamshire who we were elected to serve.”

A number of other local authorities have also voted to withdraw from the scheme. Nottingham City Council is still taking part.

Mia Shepherd, 21, from Arnold, was part of the protest before the meeting.

“I feel quite angry, but I’m also not surprised” she said after the vote.

“They [the council] are thinking about the finances and not the human cost. They [the asylums seekers] are vulnerable and they need our help more than anything.”

Notts TV has contacted the Home Office for comment.