Published: 06:00, 20 August 2020
| Updated: 06:16, 20 August 2020
A Kent charity is calling for answers following 'extreme concern' for the welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children left in the care of Border Force officials.
It comes after Kent County Council declared it could no longer safely accommodate any more children arriving on Kent's shores.
The concern stems from controversy in 2016 , when the conditions at asylum seeker holding centres at Longport and Frontier House in Folkestone and the Port of Dover were condemned by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
It was revealed that people being held in these centres were left hungry and kept in poorly ventilated conditions.
There was also nowhere to sleep except on the concrete floor at the Longport freight shed, which detained a total of 569 people between August 31 and October 3, 2016, including 90 children.
Bridget Chapman, from the Kent Refugee Action Network, wants to be sure it does not happen again.
She said: "We are extremely concerned - in the past, with the lack of accommodation we have seen asylum seekers sleeping on concrete floors at Frontier House.
"So there are precedents for people being kept in extremely poor conditions - clearly that's a concern, and another reason why we need to be reassured about what is happening to the children that are arriving."
It is currently unclear as to how long asylum seekers are being kept in holding centres by Border Force.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "This is an unprecedented situation and we continue to work closely with the Department for Education and local government on provision for unaccompanied minors.
"Unaccompanied children arriving in Dover are being cared for in the Kent Intake Unit before being placed in appropriate social services care."
A job notice posted by the government last year indicates the unit, based at the Port of Dover, has space for up to 58 detainees.
It also states that most people held will be there for no longer than 36 hours.
The question, which remains unanswered, is how long unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will be left in the hands of Border Force before they are transferred to an authority which has the capacity to care for them.
Bridget said: "In the past we saw people being left for months in Kent before being transferred to a local authority.
"Clearly that cannot happen if people are being left in inadequate facilities, so this is something we really need urgent answers to."
According to one charity, a number of children have already been transferred to other parts of the country in the past few weeks.
Debbie Busler, head of refugee support and unaccompanied children at British Red Cross, said: "We are very concerned. Children who have just undertaken incredibly dangerous and traumatic journeys need to be supported in a caring environment as quickly as possible.
"Over recent weeks, we understand that a number of children have been successfully transferred from Kent to be supported in other parts of the UK.
"It’s vital now that these efforts are redoubled with the Home Office and local authorities working together at speed to provide children with safe, welcoming homes."
Kent County Council leader Roger Gough has blamed the inadequacy of the National Transfer Scheme for the county's inability to care for any more asylum-seeking children.
The scheme aims to transfer unaccompanied minors into the care of other local authorities, in order to reduce the strain on care services in Kent.
"Children who have just undertaken incredibly dangerous and traumatic journeys need to be supported in a caring environment as quickly as possible..."
But the lack of uptake on behalf of councils across England is thought to be due to the voluntary nature of the scheme, as well as concerns over long-term financial burden not covered by the government.
The Home Office says it is currently working with Kent County Council to ease the burden on services and that there are systems in place to ensure all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are found a placement at a local authority.
Bridget added: "With the greatest respect to the Border Force they do not have the skillset to look after children.
"Children need to be in the hands of a local authority.
"We have no idea at the moment what kind of facility young people will be kept in, or whether they have access to washing facilities, legal advice - will they have access to education?"