Charities challenge Home Office over Dubs scheme decisions
Court to hear judicial reviews on resettlement cap and criteria for unaccompanied child refugees
The Home Office is facing two judicial reviews claiming it has acted unlawfully in its closure of the Dubs Amendment Scheme and its failure to consider child refugees for transfer under the programme.
The government has faced heavy criticism since announcing last week that it would be closing the scheme, designed by the Labour peer and former child refugee Lord Dubs, which aimed to help some of the estimated 90,000 unaccompanied child refugees across Europe.
On Wednesday 8 February, the Home Office said the Dubs scheme would close after the next 150 children were settled in the UK. Some 200 children have already been brought into the country under the scheme, well short of the 3,000 it was expected to help.
Defending her decision in the Commons, the home secretary, Amber Rudd, said: 'I am clear that when working with my French counterparts they do not want us to indefinitely continue to accept children under the Dubs amendment because they specify, and I agree with them, that it acts as a draw. It acts as a pull. It encourages the people traffickers.'
Two judicial reviews have also now been launched against the government. The first, brought by charity Help Refugees in 2016, claims the Home Office consultation with local authorities which led to the 350 cap on child refugees was 'fundamentally flawed'.
The legal challenge, set to be heard by Mr Justice Holman in May, asserts that the government has failed to lawfully calculate the number of available places for unaccompanied children because it failed to properly consult with local authorities as the statute required it to do.
Rosa Curling, an associate solicitor at Leigh Day who represents Help Refugees, said: 'The consultation process by which the Home Office has calculated this low number was fundamentally flawed. There was no real consultation with many local authorities.
'Our legal challenge holds the government to account on this critical issue of how many unaccompanied refugee children will be relocated to the UK and supported here.'
In a separate challenge, the Dunkirk Legal Support Team claims the government's decision to restrict the Dubs scheme to children previously residing in the Calais 'jungle' camp is unlawful.
The small team of volunteers who make up the charity say there are at least 100 unaccompanied children living in extremely dangerous conditions in 'Camp de la LiniÃ¨re', a refugee camp in Dunkirk, where they are at risk of physical and sexual violence and exploitation by networks of traffickers and smugglers.
The DLST is asking the High Court to declare the exclusion of the children to be unlawful as it undermines the purpose of the Dubs amendment, which was to provide a route to the most vulnerable children all over Europe to come to the UK, rather than just a very small number of children in one part of France.
The group also argues that the home secretary is not permitted in law to have a blanket policy to apply the scheme only to children in Calais and has asked court to order that new child settlement criteria be published by the Home Office.
The DLST's Georgia Luling Feilding said: 'The failures of state authorities and worsening conditions in the Dunkirk camp have created the perfect environment for smugglers and traffickers to thrive: they have become the providers for all needs, from access to the camp, shelters, and blankets, to (mis)information and passage into the UK, and they exercise their control in the camp with extreme violence.
'Despite the best efforts of NGOs and volunteers who work tirelessly with limited resources, unaccompanied minors are too often not aware of their rights and are therefore at greater risk of exploitation and harm.
'The unaccompanied children of Dunkirk live on our doorstep in squalor and danger. We call upon the home secretary to reconsider her position and to publish criteria which will enable some of these desperately vulnerable children to benefit from the Dubs Amendment Scheme.'
The group is being represented by Salima Budhani of Bindmans, who said: 'It is unlawful for the home secretary to ignore the children of the Dunkirk camp when deciding how to allocate places under the Dubs scheme.
'It is not in the spirit of the scheme as enacted by parliament and it is not a rational exercise of her discretion, in particular taking into account the intention to provide a route to safety for the most vulnerable children.'
The judicial review has been served on the government, which has 14 days to provide its response. The DLST has crowdfunded its legal costs on CrowdJustice. While it aimed to raise an initial £12,000, donations for the action now stand at over £31,000.
John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal