Published: 10:00, 10 June 2021
| Updated: 14:30, 10 June 2021
Priti Patel has vowed to fairly distribute responsibility for looking after vulnerable asylum-seeking children while "smashing up" the "evil" people trafficking gangs which send them across the Channel.
Kent County Council is set to sue the Home Office after being left to care for an increasing number of unaccompanied youngsters itself.
It said it was at "breaking point" that "enough was enough" and, after a promised strategy to take the pressure off failed to materialse, that legal action would be taken.
The authority said it would have to stop taking in children "within days" and gave the Home Secretary until Thursday next week to respond.
So far this year 250 lone children have made the perilous crossing against the world's busiest shipping lane in flimsy crafts. Only 52 have been cared for by other authorities.
Last month 115 arrived, almost double the total for May 2020, and one Vietnamese girl vanished from a reception centre, with fears sex trafficking gangs may be behind the increase in the rise in unaccompanied girls arriving.
Writing in today's Times Ms Patel said: "Few things could be more frightening for a child than being lost, smuggled or abandoned in a foreign country. All local authorities, across our United Kingdom, have a duty to provide safe and secure accommodation for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and they must be treated like any other child, with all the protections and care that implies."
She went on to reiterate that the long-awaited updating of the National Transfer Scheme would soon happen and would work similar to a "rota system", with authorities taking in children according to their resources and populations.
An investment of £20 million split between the authorities will be backdated to April, she added.
But she did not say exactly when the new scheme would begin.
Adding that the asylum system was "broken" and that the UK had taken in 25,000 refugees fleeing war and persecution since 2015, with a further 29,000 relative welcomed in the past five years.
Pledging to tackle people smuggling Ms Patel said the cost of the system has "sky-rocketed to more than a billion pounds a year" and that work would be undertaken to improve "existing safe and legal routes available" and offer "greater support for integration".
She added: "People are dying on dangerous journeys and the UK will show global leadership by taking all action necessary to save lives and smash up the gangs profiting in human life and treating vulnerable victims as cargo.
"Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are extremely vulnerable and we know many have been exploited by traffickers. I pay tribute to those local authorities that have played their part in looking after them and I urge others to make use of this improved scheme so that every part of the UK can step up and play their part.We will always stand by our moral and legal obligations to help innocent civilians fleeing cruelty from around the world and I am committed to an effective, generous and compassionate approach where everyone has the freedom to succeed."
KCC has been approached for comment.