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 voluntarty 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.
In addition, the Immigration Act 2016 includes 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 will be capped at 480. Scottish local authorities have received a number of children and young people by this means and it is anticipated that the remaining young people will be brought to the UK during 2019.
COSLA has been working with local authorities, UK and Scottish Government to develop an approach to both the UASC transfer scheme and the Dubs Amendment that is fit for purpose in Scotland. A working group of local authorities has been convened 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 working group also includes the Care Inspectorate and invites others to attend as appropriate.