County council calls for more aid as ‘astonishing’ number of young people arrive on Kent shores seeking asylum

KCC County Hall

By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan

An “astonishing” surge in the number of young people arriving into the county to seek asylum in 2022 has prompted calls for more aid by Kent’s largest council.

A total of 108 youngsters arrived on Kent coastlines in January 2022, the highest levels experienced in the last seven years, often on small boats along the Channel.

It comes amid an increase in the number of refugees coming to England from war-torn countries in Europe and the Middle East, such as Ukraine and Afghanistan.

KCC’s main opposition leader, Cllr Dr Lauren Sullivan (Lab) described the influx as “frightening” during a public debate in County Hall, Maidstone, on Wednesday (Mar 23).

KCC’s scrutiny chair, Cllr Andy Booth (Con), added: “This year’s cohort absolutely dwarfs the previous six, seven, eight years. It is an astonishing number.

“Sometimes we are blessed with reasonable weather in Kent, but heaven only knows where that number will go.”

More pressure has been put onto KCC’s social care services, who told the UK government that it could not accommodate any more youngsters on two occasions, since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to mandate a transfer scheme to resettle children to other parts of England and ease the burden on Kent’s shoulders.

This means more youngsters are being transferred into the care of dozens of councils in England. It is taking around two weeks to complete applications.

Sarah Hammond, who is KCC’s director for integrated children’s services, said the wait time was too long as she warned County Hall needed more assistance.

She told KCC’s scrutiny panel two days ago: “The quicker children can be moved to their new local authorities, the more children we can look after.”

Ms Hammond added: “The wait time is based on the willingness and ability of other local authorities to take young people.

“There are authorities taking asylum seeking children who have never been in that position before, and, are having to step up services and get themselves more familiar with some of the processes.

“We have offered to assist in terms of training and advice and support and consultation to any of those local authorities. The wait time is coming down. It is not quick enough yet.”

Around 730 referrals were taken in by KCC in 2021 and 227 in the first two-and-half months of the year.

Since September 2021, 75% of new arrivals have been men, aged 16 to 17, from Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Sudan and Eritrea. Around 25% have been under 16.

Some young migrants can be temporarily accommodated in hotels in Kent. They receive basic health checks and education support.

KCC’s cabinet member for integrated children services, Cllr Sue Chandler (Con) said the most vulnerable children are being prioritised for transfer, namely the younger age groups.

She said: “The National Transfer Scheme is working and doing what it says it should, albeit the transfers are not happening in the time frame we would ideally wish them to be.

“That remains a concern that we have.”