Published: 20:15, 15 June 2020
| Updated: 11:24, 17 June 2020
A Kent councillor has called on Border Force "to do their job" in stopping young migrants travelling from France to the UK via the English Channel.
Cllr Rory Love says the public body should be working closely with the government to ensure unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) are returned back to the safe European country they have travelled from.
The representative for Folkestone and Hythe made the comments during a virtual meeting of Kent County Council's (KCC) education committee five days ago where several councillors and chief officers discussed the increasing challenges faced by the authority around a recent surge in UASC coming to Kent.
He said: "Border Control are able to establish the unaccompanied asylum seeking children are under 18, but seem unable to establish they come from France.
"I would have thought that would be a straight forward procedure and I haven’t heard any massive oppression in France that results in people fleeing the country seeking asylum.”
The UASC crisis has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic with young migrants, who often travel from war-torn Middle Eastern states, such as Iraq and Iran, have ceased arriving by the traditional route of truck and train and almost exclusively arrived by small boat from Calais, France.
Amid talks with the Home Office last week, Cllr Sue Chandler (Con), KCC's cabinet member for children's services, said high level officials at the county council, including the authority's leader Roger Gough (Con), had discussed ways of preventing migrants from reaching Kent.
"Returning immigrants... is a decision that has to be taken at government level"
In addition, Conservative Cllr Chandler said: “KCC has a legal responsibility for unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) once they arrive. The work around returning immigrants, if that is the right outcome, or preventing them from getting here in the first place is at central government level and so whilst those representations have been made, KCC has no direct control over this."
KCC's corporate director for education, Matt Dunkley, who also attended the virtual meeting, described the crisis as an "unprecedented challenge" for County Hall to manage amid the public health emergency.
More than 100 young migrants have travelled from France to Kent since the lockdown began in March and within 24-hours of them arriving, they become the responsibility of KCC.
This means the county council becomes a "corporate parent" for the unaccompanied children and they are tasked to provide accommodation and a social worker to watch over them.
In response to Cllr Love's suggestion to send the children back to France, Mr Dunkley said there is no legal option to do so.
He cited that the United States of America have taken a different view with Mexican immigrants since President Trump arrived, with his iconic 2016 manifesto pledge to build a giant wall between the two countries.
However the enacted policies of Boris Johnson's government differ dramatically. Mr Dunkley added: "There is not an ability in the UK to ask people to return countries they have been through to seek asylum somewhere else."
More by this authorCiaran Duggan, local democracy reporter
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