Shake-up leaves refugees at risk

25th December 1998 at 00:00
Reva Klein on fears that children will suffer under proposals to spread asylum-seekers around the country.

Proposals to disperse asylum-seekers around the country could leave many young refugees isolated and without support.

An Asylum White Paper from the Home Office recommends spreading refugees around the country to ease congestion in Greater London.

Already, shortages of temporary accommodation in inner- London boroughs have led to asylum-seekers, some of them unaccompanied minors, being put into bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Cumbria, Lincolnshire and Teesside, where there are few if any other minority communities.

Coupled with the new arrangements for Section 11 funding - former Home Office grant which in future will be devolved to schools - this means that young refugees could find themselves without language support in schools not used to dealing with children from different cultures.

Jill Rutter, education officer at the Refugee Council, says: "Along the M1 and M6, you'll find asylum-seekers. They've settled around the motorway service stations where the lorries have dropped them off. Some find their way to London, but others remain isolated.

"We fear that with the new White Paper proposals and decentralisation of Section 11 funds, schools with no experience of ethnic minorities won't be able to respond quickly and effectively to their needs." The two largest groups of asylum-seekers at present are Somalis and Kosovan Albanians. The Kosovans, mostly teenage boys and young men, enter illegally through container ports because of the difficulty getting in any other way.

For those past compulsory school age, the situation could be even worse, says Jill Rutter. There is no statutory obligation for local authorities to provide education and training for 16 to 19-year-old asylum-seekers, so these new policies would mean that they are left to sit and do nothing.

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