High Court hears challenge to government's closure of Dubs scheme
Government consultation with local authorities was â€˜seriously flawed', says human rights solicitor
The High Court will today hear a legal challenge to the government's failure to implement the Dubs amendment and that by failing to uphold it the Home Office has put children's safety at risk.
The government has faced heavy criticism since announcing it would close the scheme designed by Labour peer Lord Dubs that aimed to help some of the estimated 90,000 unaccompanied child refugees across Europe.
The Home Office announced in February that the scheme would close following settlement of a further 150 children. Only 200 children had been brought into the UK at the time, well short of the 3,000 the scheme was expected to help.
Help Refugees, represented by Leigh Day, is challenging the home secretary, Amber Rudd, over her failure to comply properly with her duties under the Dubs amendment.
'We're taking this action because lone refugee children in Europe are sleeping in woods, on streets and in acutely underequipped refugee camps in danger of the worst kinds of abuses,' said Help Refugees' founder and CEO Josie Naughton.
'In May 2016, a law was put in place to help protect these children, but for over a year Amber Rudd and the Home Office have put children's safety at risk by failing to uphold it. There are hundreds more local authority spaces available for these children and the Home Office knows it.'
Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 requires the government to make arrangements 'as soon as possible' after the passing the Act (on 31 May 2016) to relocate and support a 'specified number' of unaccompanied refugee children from Europe.
It is also required to consult with local authorities to determine the number of children to be relocated. The government has already been forced to admit that it 'missed' 130 local authority places for children, and to raise the original number of 350 children to be relocated to 480.
Help Refugees argues that the government's consultation with local authorities by which it reached the low number of children to be relocated was seriously defective. The NGO's legal team said it will present evidence of hundreds of further local authority places for children that it claims were unlawfully omitted by the government from the calculation of nationwide capacity.
'The government's consultation with local authorities was seriously flawed,' said Leigh Day human rights solicitor Rosa Curling. 'We are asking the court to order the government to reopen the consultation so that national capacity to assist these children can be properly assessed.'
The government's failure to relocate and support unaccompanied refugee children as soon as possible is also to be challenged, according to Leigh Day. A year after the measure came into force, only 200 children had been relocated to the UK and all from the Calais Camp. The government has yet to indicate when the relocations from Greece and Italy will begin.
Furthermore, the government is maintaining a policy, first adopted in July 2016, that children will only qualify for relocation under if they were in Europe before 20 March 2016. Help Refugees argues that having delayed so long in implementing the Dubs amendment, it is unlawful for the government to maintain such a policy.
Former child refugee Lord Dubs said: 'I believe the government's inadequate consultation to calculate local authority capacity, the woefully low number that the government has set and the appallingly slow pace of relocations are all indicative of a level of incompetence in the current government that's verging on deep cynicism.
'The government's foot-dragging is putting refugee children's lives at risk. That is why this legal challenge is so very important. What these children need is a helping hand, similar to the one Britain lent me when I was a boy. I wasn't left alone to live in camps or on the streets of Europe. I was saved by Britain and its people.'
John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal