By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Kent County Council says it is “struggling” to support asylum-seeker children aged under 18 as 292 young migrants arrived in Kent over the last 11 months, marking the highest level in the last three years.
Criminal gangs using clandestine boats to transport asylum seekers, the closure of migrant camps in Northern France, and the war in north Syria have been cited as key reasons for the spike in figures.
The looming Brexit deadlines also saw a sharp increase with 29 young migrants arriving in March, nearly triple the number who came to Kent this January and February, while 41 arrived in October.
KCC’s corporate director for children, young people and education, Matt Dunkley, said the increase has put a strain on council services, adding: “We are struggling with capacity at the moment and it’s having an impact on placements generally.”
This year, KCC is working at almost double its capacity with a total of 411 unaccompanied asylum-seeker children (UASC) in authority care. The council continues to work with different South East authorities and the Home Office to find a solution.
The growing pressure comes just five months after it was revealed that KCC is facing a £6 million shortfall in the costs of looking after the children, blamed on under-funding from the government.
New KCC analysis shows the departure from the European Union is likely to have played a key factor in the recent increase, even though many migrants have travelled from war-torn Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.
In March, the numbers of unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) almost tripled from the amount seen in January (12) and February (11). A total of 21 UASC arrived in the three days preceding the European Union agreeing to a deadline extension in October.
A KCC corporate parenting panel paper states “uncertainty” continues to exist about the eventual impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on the council’s services. The majority of the migrants are male teenagers aged 16 and 17, but recently more pressure has been put onto the authority to provide essentials for them, including sheltered accommodation, language lessons, treating physical injuries and mental trauma.
The numbers arriving are markedly higher than the 2017 and 2018 levels, which both sit at 214 and 173 respectively, but fall short of the levels during the 2015 European migrant crisis when 948 migrant children arrived.
A national transfer scheme (NTS) was established in 2015 to try and alleviate pressure on Kent and other local authorities.
KCC withdrew from the scheme last year due to frustrations about the lack of commitment from other authorities to volunteer or accept responsibility for the children, a KCC paper states.
Kent county councillor Trudy Dean (Lib Dem), a member of KCC’s corporate parenting panel, said: “It’s a disgrace that this national scheme has fallen apart.”
The Home Office declined to comment.