Earlier this month, the government announced its commitment to resettling unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the UK from Greece, Italy and France. In addition to the Government's previous commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees under the Vulnerable Resettlement Scheme, the Prime Minister's Office announced a new initiative on 4 May 2016 in an effort to assist vulnerable asylum-seeking children, particularly those at risk of trafficking or exploitation who it is said, would be 'prioritised for resettlement'.
The initiative is limited to children that registered before the EU migration agreement with Turkey took effect on 20 March 2016. Accordingly, it won't apply to unaccompanied child refugees who are currently not in Europe. Whilst no commitment was given as to the number of children who will be resettled under the scheme, the Government indicated it would consult with local authorities before setting out the specifics of the resettlement plans. According to Save the Children, 24,000 unaccompanied child refugees are currently in Europe. 2013 figures from Eurostat indicate that approximately 12,685 asylum applications were submitted by unaccompanied minors across Europe. These numbers appear to have dramatically increased with statistics indicating that of over one quarter of all asylum applications, more than 160,000 in the EU were from children, although it appears difficult to obtain accurate numbers for unaccompanied children (Eurostat, "Asylum applicants considered to be unaccompanied minors by citizenship, age and sex Annual data (rounded)"). IOM and Unicef further report in their November 2015 Data Brief, that in June 2015, one in 10 of those refugees and migrants registered at the border between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was a child. By October 2015, this increased to one in three.
Since the Government's announcement, this relocation scheme has been enacted as a result of the Immigration Act 2016 ("the Act") receiving Royal Assent on 12 May 2016. Part 5 of the Act deals with the relocation and support of unaccompanied refugee children. Despite this, the provisions of the legislation do not deal with the specifics of how the resettlement will work in practice, much of which will depend on local authorities and further regulations. For example, whilst it is the Secretary of State's responsibility to make arrangements for the unaccompanied refugee children to be relocated to the UK "as soon as possible after the passing of this Act", exactly how this will work in practice remains to be seen. It appears that the particular'arrangements' which will be made for these children will be a question for the relevant local authority to determine. The provisions allow for the transfer of responsibility for relevant children between local authorities, which one would presume would be to allow for the sharing of responsibility for unaccompanied children.
Whilst the specifics of the scheme remain unclear, it appears this is a first step towards assisting the vast number of vulnerable refugee children in seeking a new start at life in the UK.