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  ‘Holding Hands’ Campaign: Exeter City of Sanctuary’s Campaigning for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC)

This page gives a summary of our main local and national campaigning activities as regards unaccompanied children and  young asylum seekers since August ’16  – particularly in relation to the National Transfer Scheme and Family Reunion Rights for lone child refugees . It includes main actions taken by our campaigning group with Devon County Council, county councilors, MPs as well as national Government ministers. At the very end of the page there are links to our historical letters, statements and other campaigning NGO’s petitions, actions etc. Please scroll down.    (Note: Further information specifically on the Dubs’ Amendment Scheme, Section 67 Immigration Act 2016, explaining what this scheme was, why it was capped, then subsequently closed and how NGOs, including ExCoS, responded can be found on our website here:  / ) 

UPDATE February ’21: End of legal routes to safety for unaccompanied child asylum seekers/refugees.  Since January 2021 there are sadly no longer any legal routes to safety in the UK for unaccompanied child asylum seekers and refugees. Despite the huge pressure brought to bear on Gov. by the House of Lords, NGOs, some LAs and community groups, nonetheless both the UK Immigration Act 2020 and the EU Withdrawal legislation failed to include any provisions for family reunification rights for lone child refugees. Their previous rights under the EU Dublin 111 regulations which allowed UASCs in EU to reunite with relatives here have ended post Brexit. These children have no choice now but to undertake increasingly dangerous journeys to seek sanctuary or reunite with family here. 

Devon County Council continues to accommodate unaccompanied children through the National Transfer Scheme (NTS). Numbers however are very modest: between May 2019 and October 2020 DCC accommodated 13 children. The Refugee Council and Children’s Commissioner have been calling for the reform of NTS as it has emerged that lone children were detained last year.(See here )

A report by the Children’s Commissioner this month (Feb.’21) reveals that one in six unaccompanied children were detained at the Kent Intake Unit for more than 24 hours last year- which is illegal under the Immig. Act 2014. 

Despite applications for asylum falling by 18% in 2020  very harsh responses both in the media and also from the Home Secretary to those crossing the channel have suggested the contrary. There are now serious safeguarding and welfare concerns regarding the treatment of both the children and adults arriving here. See here for more info. on the #Close the Barracks campaign led by Refugee Action. 

Campaigning Update Sept’-Dec.’18:   UASCs in Devon-  Mentors and Foster Families needed.                 Devon County County  disclosed that over 41 UASCs had come to Devon since 2016. They are looking for volunteer mentors to support the young people in building new lives here. Apply if interested to ‘SPACE’ at, or contact them via social media- @Spacepsm .              Foster Carers are are also Urgently Needed by Fostering Devon for Lone asylum seeking Children and Young People. Some need short-term emergency placements, whilst others will be looking for longer term foster care. For those interested or already approved to foster, please call us on 0345 155 1077 or email [email protected] to talk to a member of the team.

Campaigning Update June 18:   FAMILY REUNION- For Refugees  in EU  post Brexit . Please Support the New Lord Dubs Amendment (Dubs 2) –  to EU Withdrawal Bill.   ( The UK is  currently obliged to reunite lone refugee children (and adults) in the EU with family members in UK under the Dublin III EU regulation. This falls away next March when the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. Lord Dubs, and Yvette Cooper have tabled a new amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill which seeks to ensure that Britain does not close off this main legal route through which young people in camps in Europe can currently be reunited with their families/relatives here. Since 2015, this legal route has enabled over 800 unaccompanied children and more than 1,000 adults and dependent children stranded in Europe to safely reunite with family here in Britain. It has saved countless lives.

YOU CAN SUPPORT SAFE PASSAGE’S CAMPAIGN to push through this amendment in parliament here: .    Relatives ‘ as envisaged by the amendment would include aunts, uncles and minor siblings.

  PLEASE NOTE: This is a different amendment to what has generally been known as the ‘Dubs Amendment’ (1)  which aimed to secure sanctuary in the UK for lone refugee children with no family links in the UK, . This relocation scheme is ongoing-albeit in a restricted way- see our separate page on this here:

Campaigning Update April ’18GREAT NEWS!                                                                                                         The Refugees Family Reunion Bill UK passed it’s 2nd Parliamentary Reading, 16th March.  We have been raising awareness locally and holding public meetings about this important new Bill which seeks to change current restrictive rules which keep refugees living in the UK apart from close family.. We are supporting the national campaign by a coalition of orgs.  urging MPs to attend the 2nd reading in the Commons and have written to Ben Bradshaw.  Read  more about the Bill by clicking  Here .   

other GOOD NEWS:  Safe Passage issued a statement  to say  it welcomes the UK-France agreement announced on 18th Jan ’18 to speed-up family reunion under Dublin 111  regulation  for refugees in Calais with family in Britain.    

November/Dec. ’17:    Campaigning Update :

ExCoS attends Action at Parliament; (#Dubsnow  #childenofcalais).  Other News :   

Parliamentary debate and outcome;  Introducing the New Family Reunification Bill (private members)

ExCoS attended the National Day of Action rally and MPs lobbying session at Parliament (24/10/17) with SW campaigners from Plymouth and Cornwall to advocate for unaccompanied child refugees in Calais and EU . 100s of campaigners and community leaders joined with Safe Passage UK, Help Refugees as well as about 20 lone child refugees resettled here last year.

There was praise for the UK Government’s action in bringing 750 child asylum seekers to safety here last year when the ‘Jungle’ was demolished – mostly to reunite with relatives. In a moving tribute a rep. for the young people thanked  Parliament and the British people for giving them a new life, and peace. They also presented Lord Dubs, who led the campaign for safe and legal routes, with a plaque.  (See here:  www.exetercityofsanctuary/dubs- scheme  and )

Amid the praise Lord Dubs and Josie Naughton (CEO, Help Refugees), articulated the concerns of those present for the health, safety and well being of the 200+ UASCs currently in Calais and sleeping rough in the woods:-  as well as the thousands more lone children in Greece, Italy and beyond suffering appalling, unsafe living conditions and often inappropriately detained in cells.

“We are here today to demand that, at the very least, all 480 (Dubs) places are filled before the end of the year, to protect at least some of the children of Calais from freezing temperatures this Christmas.” Josie Naughton

  Photo:  Campaigners from the SW with Lord Dubs at the Parliament Day of Action for Child Refugees 24/10/17. Pictured: C. Henry (ExCoS), Faraday Fearnside, OHOB from Plymouth , Robert Butler, Cornwall and 4 others.

A Parliamentary debate followed on 2nd November and the good news is that as a result of this pressure Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis announced that 

  1. ‘Dubs’ transfers have restarted (for the first time this year) with a small number of young people imminently arriving from the EU. Regrettably however the minister has not conceded at this point to extend the scheme beyond the 480 young people agreed early this year.
  2. He also announced that four new accommodation centres were to open near to Calais and in Northern France and it is hoped this will increase young people’s access to information, legal aid and family reunification rights.
  3. Sadly Ben Bradshaw, Exeter MP, was unable to attend the debate but is supportive and writing to relevant Government departments on the issues.

Family Reunification Rights, EU and UK : MPs recognised however that in the context of Brexit a whole new legislative framework is needed to safeguard current EU family reunification rights under the Dublin 111 regulation. The Refugee Council, along with Amnesty International UK, Oxfam GB, UNHCR UK , Help Refugees and the British Red Cross, are supporting a Private Members’ Bill introduced in the House of Commons by Angus MacNeil MP.

The bill is due to be debated for the first time on 16 March 2018, and the Refugee Council is encouraging people to contact their MP and ask them to make sure they attend that debate. Details here: https://action.refugeecouncil.  and here: 

  • Update October ’17:  ExCoS  PUBLIC MEETING 18/10/17

A national day of Action aimed at putting UASCs back on the political agenda has been organised for 24th October by Safe Passage and Help Refugees who will be outside parliament that Day with supporters. A parliamentary debate on lone child refugees is also scheduled and ExCoS will be encouraging our Exeter MP to attend. We are holding a public meeting to support this Safe Passage+ Help Refugees organised action day, to discuss/plan and write letters to MPs: 18th October at St. Sidwell’s Community Centre. 7pm. All Welcome.

  • Campaigns Update September ’17. ExCoS’ Freedom of Information Request to Devon County Council/Letters.   Government committed to bringing just 480 unaccompanied refugee children from the EU in total under the ‘Dubs’ Amendment. Not one child asylum seeker has arrived here from the EU under the Dubs scheme this year (and just 200 arrived last year). It is believed there are many places available over this number nationally and Local Authorities in the South West offered, we understand, 130 places specifically for ‘Dubs’. Devon County Council has offered places as part of the SW’s offer to the Home Office.
  • ExCoS has written to Immigration Minister, Brandon Lewis  requesting he make urgent arrangements to bring these 280 children to safety here from Greece, France and Italy. No reply to date.  Letter-to-Immigration-Minister-re-DUBS-1
  • In July ’17, ExCoS  made a Freedom of Information request to Devon County Council seeking confirmation as to whether they had made a specific offer of places to the Home Office for unaccompanied child asylum seekers in the EU eligible for the ‘Dubs’ scheme. Devon County Council have confirmed that they have offered to resettle UASCs  brought to the UK under Dubs and informed the Home Office of this. For reasons of confidentiality DCC will not disclose the exact number of places offered. (This offer is separate to the National Transfer Scheme for UASCs already in the UK.). DCC had 21 UASCs in their care as of August ’17. 
  • ExCoS continues to support the ongoing court action by ‘Help Refugees’ which seeks to ‘force’ the Government to re-open Dubs and to re-consult with LAs. We also support ‘Safe Passage UK”s campaigning.

Campaigns Update June ’17:  General Election – Pledge of Support

Exeter City of Sanctuary requested all election candidates support our pledge of support for refugees by committing to work with us on 5 key objectives, including maintaining Devon County Council’s  commitment to participating in the national transfer scheme for unaccompanied children (NTS) and advocating for the re-in statement of the ‘Dubs’ scheme.  Download  Pledge form sent to Election Candidates   or Click on image to view 

We have received very positive responses from Ben Bradshaw, Joe Levy and Vanessa Newcombe. Thank you!


A major development has been the closure of the Dubs scheme (Section 67 of Immigration Act) in March following the relocation of just over 200 lone children asylum seekers in France to safety here . A further 280 young people are expected to be resettled from EU and the scheme will then close. The expectation had been that up to 3,000 lone children would be resettled , with full and comprehensive consultation with local authorities.

  •  City of Sanctuary nationally has made a very strongly worded statement on the closure of the ‘Dubs’ scheme, condemning the Government’s actions and neglect of child refugees and criticising the Home Secretary for perpetuating misinformed ideas and information.To see the full statement click here.     

 ” …………………….   Where is our moral compass, and compassion? We, in the city of sanctuary movement are concerned that if we do not stand up for these children, we will allow the UK government to decide that young unaccompanied children who have fled war and conflict seeking refuge in supposedly “safe” Europe, are not worthy of our help or care.”  City of Sanctuary, 15th March 17    

Sadly a vote in Parliament on this issue was not successful. For further information about the ‘Dubs Amendment’- including what it is, it’s closure and how ExCoS/CoS and other agencies are responding please see the ” Dubs Scheme Closure” section on this website’s menu  .

  Campaign Update:     November ’16      GREAT NEWS!

  Devon County Council will be resettling unaccompanied children and young people                                                            seeking asylum .                                                      

 We have received a response from  DCC’s Cabinet Chair, John Hart, to our letters indicating that DCC are committing to participating in the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) for UASC over the next 4 years. We welcome this positive commitment from DCC. This commits Devon to accepting in principle approx. 100 children and young people.

  • See John Hart’s ‘s full statement to the Council :  UASC-John-Hart’s-report-to-full-council-Oct-2016
  • Devon County Council issued a press statement on 7/10/2016 indicating their aim to to look after at least 25 UASC in Devon before March ’17 under the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) for UASC. We are delighted by this news, and encourage those interested in fostering and offering care for unaccompanied children who have applied for asylum, to contact D C C Fostering Services: Fostering enquiry line 0345 155 1077, or email  [email protected]  We understand that the Council’s commitment to participating in the National Transfer Scheme will be ongoing after this time. See Press Statement below.
  • Towards the end of October Devon agreed to host a temporary Home Office respite facility for U A S C in the Torrington area -mostly teenagers, transferred from Calais. This facility offered emergency accommodation only and we understand many of the young people were  moved to other parts of the UK to reunite with family members. A small number have been accommodated by DCC. There was an overwhelmingly supportive and positive welcoming response from the local community.
  • Exeter City of Sanctuary met with a representative of Devon’s Fostering Services towards the end of  November 2016. She indicated that D C C expects to accommodate approx 100-120 UASC over the next 4 years.
  • 17  children have already been accommodated, mostly in foster homes. Older teenagers (16-17 yr. olds) are being placed in supported housing situations. All carers are assessed.

Press statement from Devon County Council:

  • Campaign Update: Oct. ’16

Following our initial meeting on 4th August the ExCoS campaigns group has:

  • Written to Devon County Council Cabinet chair John Hart and other Cabinet members. We are requesting public confirmation that D C C intends to participate in the new national resettlement scheme for unaccompanied children currently in limbo in Calais and other camps in Europe-as well as those children arriving in Kent and elsewhere following risky journeys alone. The new resettlement scheme was introduced in July. We have not as yet had a response from Devon County Council. (Copies of letters sent are at end of this page)
  • We have also written to Exeter Children’s Services, asking to meet with them and highlighting our willingness to support plans/resourcing.  (Copies of letters sent are at the end of this page)

Other Actions:

  • We have rallied our supporters to write individual letters to their County Councillor, urging them to ask for a commitment from DCC . We have also involved Ben Bradshaw, MP
  • We have written letters to Home Secretary,Amber Rudd and Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill and received responses from both.
  • London March: A group of us attended the ‘Refugees Welcome’ march in London on 17th September. See report here

City of Sanctuary nationally, and other refugee organisations, have written an open letter to the new Home Secretary asking her to:

 UASC, Europe: In the light of plans to imminently shut down the Calais camp coupled with the inadequate facilities at other EU transit facilities there are a number of national petitions seeking an urgent response from the UK Government to bring UASC to UK under the provisions of Immigration Act 2016 (‘Dubs’) or Family Reunification. We encourage our supporters to sign these (see below-Liberty/Help Refugees)).

Contact us: If you are interested in knowing more about our campaign and/or joining our campaigns group, then please register your interest by emailing Exeter City of Sanctuary:  i[email protected]

Previous Postings : An Overview of our Campaign, August ’16

Exeter City of Sanctuary is campaigning for unaccompanied child asylum seekers.We have sought discussions with Devon County Council and Children’s Services in Exeter as regards what plans they have in place to offer sanctuary and support to some of these children. In it’s recent report the EU Home Affairs Select-Committee (House of Lords) argued that unaccompanied children seeking asylum were being systematically let down by the EU and its Member States, including the UK .  

With plans being made to bulldoze the camp at Calais a new urgency has been added for these vulnerable lone children. It is crucial that LAs and Children’s Services (Exeter) advertise the need for foster parents to come forward, if this is needed. ExCoS would wish to offer it’s support.

The campaign is starting locally in Exeter. We aim to raise awareness among the Exeter community of the needs of these vulnerable children. As local authority’s hold legal responsibility for the care of unaccompanied minors in UK we will be contacting Devon County Council and Children’s Services.

Background Info:

The term ‘Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children’ (UASC) is the official jargon used to refer to children under-18 years who have arrived in Britain and Europe without family to care for them. Fleeing war, poverty and torture many of these children have undertaken long and hazardous journeys by sea and land on their own. Some children, like our evacuees in the last war, were sent away by their families in hopes of keeping them safe. Other children have fallen into the hands of traffickers, and are and have been exploited miserably. Regardless of the chain of events that have led these children to our shores – they are all vulnerable and in need of a helping hand.

There are different routes by which UASC arrive, or might arrive, in the UK:

  • Family Reunification: Currently almost 1,000 unaccompanied  minors are stranded and living in desperate conditions in Calais, Dunkirk and other makeshift camps in the north of France. These lack acceptable basic shelter or the protection, information and services the children desperately need.  Several hundred of these children have been identified as eligible for resettlement in UK on family reunification grounds. (Safe Passage; Alf Dubs)  Less than 40 have been transferred.
  • Immigration Act 2016-Dubs Amendment:  In May Parliament passed the new Immigration Act 2016 which includes provisions (Dubs Amendment) for unaccompanied child refugees and asylum seekers in Europe (Northern France, Greece and Italy) to be resettled in UK.  None have as yet been transferred to UK.
  •  Presenting alone at UK ports etc.: In the face of official barriers or inaction increasing numbers of children attempt to reach the UK by their own efforts; in lorries, through smugglers etc. On arrival in UK they apply for asylum and are accommodated by the Local Authority, who has legal responsibility for their care. Earlier this year Kent Council reported that they have been overwhelmed by the numbers of UASC arriving in their area and now in their care. They have sought the help of other LAs to share the burden collectively.

Exeter City of Sanctuary is seeking to from a campaign group. If you are interested in being part of that campaign, then please register your interest by emailing Exeter City of Sanctuary at [email protected]  and/or attending the meeting on 4th August.

Relevant Campaign Letters/Statements/

LINKS  to National Campaigns we are supporting:

  1.  Family Reunification. There is a new Bill going through parliament which endeavours to extend the rights to family reunion for refugees settled here in UK . It is being campaigned for  by The Refugee Council and a coalition of all main refugee orgs.  See here:  ttps://action.refugeecouncil.  and here: .   Urge MPs to attend.
  2.  Safe Passage: ExCoS supports this Citizen’s UK project which seeks to open safe and legal routes to sanctuary, particularly for unaccompanied children seeking asylum/family re-unification. Active in France, Greece and Italy. A strong Campaigning org., it particularly campaigns for family reunification under the Dublin 111 regulation for unaccompanied children in EU .
  3.  ‘Help Refugees: Supported by Alf Dubs.  The charity has taken legal action over child refugees in Calais ‘Jungle’ and in June ’17 launched legal challenge in UK  seeking order to re-open Dubs/re -consult local authorities on spaces available.   #DubsNow
  4. Amnesty International UK:  ‘Families Together ‘ campaign , with OxfamUNHCRRefugee CouncilBritish Red Cross and STAR