Letter to Secretaries of State Priti Patel and Michael Gove regarding refugees

Published on
21 May 2022

Barnardo's and other organisations supporting children and families have written to Priti Patel and Michael Gove to share our concerns about recent policy developments regarding refugees arriving in the UK:

Dear Secretaries of State,

We are writing to you as organisations that support children and families seeking sanctuary in the UK and internationally. Whilst we welcome the Government’s commitment to supporting refugees arriving from Ukraine, we feel compelled to set out our shared concerns about two recent policy developments in this area.

First, we remain concerned that the safeguarding risks of the Homes for Ukraine scheme are not being adequately addressed. The lack of a regulated matching system has already given rise to predatory behaviour according to media reports and Ukrainians who are still in border countries do not know about the regulated matching services which are now available, potentially leading them to use unsafe ways of matching with hosts. We are also hearing that the funding for host checks by local authorities and trauma-informed services is not adequate to cover the ongoing safeguarding needs of families who are hosted. We urge the Government to provide the extra funding required to ensure that hosts are effectively vetted and to enable Ukrainian families to access specialist trauma-informed services, including therapeutic interventions where needed.

Alongside this, there needs to be greater thought given to re-matching support for families where host relationships breakdown – many local authorities are already struggling to house homeless people, and our fear is that Ukrainians who move out of their host’s home may end up street homeless with all of the safeguarding risks that this presents. Moreover, we would urge the Government to consider placing the Ukraine Family Visa Scheme on a similar footing to the Homes for Ukraine scheme, so that local authorities can receive the data and vital financial resources they need to understand the needs of the families arriving and to support them effectively with access to housing and education in the same way as Homes for Ukraine.

Second, we wish to highlight the disparity in treatment of Ukrainians fleeing the war, and the measures put in place to welcome Syrian, Afghan and refugees of other nationalities seeking safety in the UK. Around 12,000 Afghan refugees continue to live in hotels and face barriers to accessing education, employment, and vital services to support them. We urge the Government to look at how the current Homes for Ukraine model can be expanded to ensure that all refugees who have arrived or are arriving in the UK are granted the same welcome and support package to ensure they are successfully integrated into our society.

Finally, we seek understanding and assurance about our outstanding concerns around the risks to children in the way the Government’s plans for sending people to Rwanda have been designed and could be administered. We reiterate concerns raised by Dame Sara Thornton amongst many others and are particularly alarmed by the lack of safeguards for unaccompanied children who may be wrongly assessed as being adults, including children who have been trafficked.

Whilst we understand that the intention is not to include children in this scheme, we are particularly worried about the potential for vulnerable children, arriving alone to the UK, to be mistakenly assessed as adults and sent to Rwanda. Our services regularly support children who have been detained as adults. The ‘scientific methods’ currently available, including medical examinations based on dental or wrist bone x-rays which may have no clinical need, can only estimate age. There will therefore always be a margin of error which can be up to five years either side especially around the age of puberty.

In company with many others, we believe that these plans require greater join-up and we call on the Government to revise its approach. To achieve the Prime Minister’s vision for a ‘global Britain’, the UK must play its part in welcoming all those fleeing persecution and war and needing protection, including asylum-seeking children, regardless of their nationality.

Yours sincerely,

Lynn Perry MBE, CEO, Barnardo’s

Melanie Armstrong, Chief Executive, Action for Children

Rose Caldwell, CEO, Plan International UK

Gwen Hines, CEO, Save the Children UK

Philip Ishola, CEO, Love146 UK

Jo Revill, CEO, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH)

Sir Peter Wanless, CEO, NSPCC