Kent County Council (KCC) told Home Office Priti Patel “enough is enough” after being left to care for more than double the number of safe, vulnerable asylum-seeking children.

The authority sent the government department a “pre-action letter” after warning they were at “breaking point” and could be forced to turn away other children “within days.”

A baby is lifted from a small boat in Dover Photo: Chris Johnson

Currently, other authorities are under no obligation to care for traumatized children – many of whom have fled religious persecution and escaped becoming child soldiers.

But with Kent currently housing more than double the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASCs) the government believes it will have, KCC has called for action to avoid a repeat of the crisis seen in the year last.

The authority wants Ms Patel to act to ensure that other councils take some responsibility for the crisis and warns that if she does not, she could be forced to refuse other children as soon as this is over. week.

With limited resources, it is feared that many of those who have arrived will be treated by criminals, some, including a growing number of single girls, at risk of prostitution in this country.

KCC chief Roger Gough said: “I am deeply saddened that we are now seeing a repeat of the same crisis of 9 months ago.

“The Home Office consulted on changes to the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) in August and September of last year and has yet to release any new proposals or response to the consultation.

“The scheme remains voluntary with insufficient incentive for other UK local authorities to relocate the Kent UASC.

“The residents of Kent deserve a resolution to this problem. We still don’t have one. The grossly disproportionate pressure on Kent’s children’s services continues to be overlooked.

“We need to make sure that all UK local authorities with capacity share the support of these children.

“Enough is enough. A robust and long-term solution is long overdue and essential for the future well-being of all children in KCC’s care, regardless of their origin, and the continuation of the excellent services that provide them. argue.

KCC Chief Roger Gough
KCC Chief Roger Gough

The council said if it did not receive a response from Ms Patel by Thursday, June 17, it would take legal action.

So far this year, 250 isolated children – some as young as 12 – have arrived and only 52 are being cared for by other authorities.

In May, 115 arrived, up from 64 at the same time last year, and those who reached the UK appear to be getting younger.

During the recent holiday, 50 people arrived, including a Vietnamese girl who was reportedly missing from a reception center.

At least 4,349 people have crossed the Channel this year, compared to 1,737 people at the same time last year.

Children traditionally come from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, but increasing numbers are fleeing sub-Saharan Africa and there has been a spike in those arriving through the Channel from Vietnam following the tragedy of the ‘Essex where 39 locals were found dead in a trailer.

Children under 16 are sent to foster families while 16-17 year olds are assessed before being placed in “assisted living”. The Border Force contest 75% of arrivals based on their age, but the checks take three months.

Asylum seekers arrive in Dover.  Photo: Chris Johnson (47175754)
Asylum seekers arrive in Dover. Photo: Chris Johnson (47175754)

Earlier, it was reported that Ms Patel had blamed social media giants for the spike in the crossings, writing to them to demand the removal of a ‘glamorous’ viral video of the crossings.

Ms Patel said: “Messages that promote and even glamorize these deadly passages are totally unacceptable. They encourage others to leave a safe European country and put their lives and the lives of their families in danger and are even used by smugglers to promote their murderous business.

“What these articles do not mention are the people who died trying to make this crossing, or those who were forced to spend 13 hours in dilapidated boats in freezing waters.”

A young Sudanese boy was found dead and stranded on a beach in Sangatte, France, last August.

And last October, four asylum seekers, including two children aged eight and five, drowned when their boat capsized off Dunkirk.

Nearly 600 asylum seekers have been intercepted as they attempted to cross the English Channel in three days this week.

Earlier this week, the High Court ruled that the Home Secretary acted illegally in housing asylum seekers in the former “squalid” Napier Barracks military camp in Folkestone – which has fallen into disrepair since soldiers live there.

Photos show inside Napier Barracks in Folkestone Photo: Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration
Photos show inside Napier Barracks in Folkestone Photo: Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

Meanwhile, the Home Office is investigating an incident in which migrants attempting to cross the Channel were allegedly picked up from French waters by British border forces and taken to Dover.

Regarding recent crossings, the Home Office confirmed that French authorities dealt with eight incidents involving 130 people on Friday, with the UK dealing with four boats involving 83 people.

This follows 201 people arrested by border force officers in eight incidents on Thursday.

And French authorities intercepted nine crossings on Wednesday and Thursday preventing 171 people from reaching the United Kingdom.

That makes a total of 585 crossing attempts in just three days.

Interior Minister Priti Patel.  Image: Home office
Minister of the Interior Priti Patel. Image: Home office

The number of people crossing the 21-mile stretch of water has nearly doubled so far in 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, with more than 3,100 reaching English shores in late May.

Anti-immigration protests took place in Dover last weekend with protesters blocking access to major shopping terminals and four were arrested.

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive Officer of the Refugee Council, said: “This government’s approach to tackling the Channel crossings is not working and is doomed to fail.

“The reality is that when fleeing war, terror and persecution, ordinary people are forced to take extraordinary measures to seek safety in another country.

“Instead of relying solely on a coercive approach to stop railway crossings, this government must expand safe routes so that people do not have to risk their lives by taking dangerous journeys at the mercy of criminals and smugglers.

“Creating safe and regular routes to the UK – through an expanded resettlement program, humanitarian visas and reform of restrictive family reunification rules – is the way to effectively tackle the problem. “

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Those who try to cheat the system place an unfair burden on the taxpayer and prevent genuine asylum seekers from getting help. This is why the government is proposing the New Plan for Immigration which will allow us to welcome the most disadvantaged by safe and legal channels, while avoiding abuse of the system.

“We recognize the long-standing role Kent County Council has played in supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and are extremely grateful for their contribution. We continue to encourage more regions to join the national transfer program and do their part.

“We have already consulted on how to improve the regime to make it fairer – the results of which will be published very soon.”

Analysis by political editor Paul Francis

KCC hopes its threat to sue the government for the Home Secretary’s failure to use existing powers to order other councils to take care of child asylum seekers will not go to court. .

Instead, he hopes the prospect will focus the Home Office’s mind on finding some sort of solution to the escalating crisis facing the council.

Rather, it is a case of political abyss. Neither the government nor KCC will want to get bogged down in a costly and potentially lengthy court case as the number of arrivals in Kent in small boats and dinghies increases.

KCC has ample evidence that it has reached a crisis point and clearly believes the coming months will only increase the numbers, with the risk that its resources will be stretched even further.

It is understandable that the authority is frustrated by the lack of action on the issue; the warnings are not new but to date the government has been reluctant to intervene directly.

Maybe it will be now.

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