Published: 15:35, 17 September 2019
| Updated: 19:12, 22 September 2019
Gangs and traffickers have been urging migrants to "get into Britain before Brexit" as the numbers of foreign children seeking asylum in Kent continues to grow.
A total of 353 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children - known as UASCs - aged under 18 are currently under the care of Kent County Council and by the end of the year the total number will fall just short of the levels of the 2015 European migrant crisis.
KCC's education boss, Cllr Roger Gough (Con), said further increases this year would place added pressure on several council services, including foster caring, accommodation provision, East Kent's health services and between £500,000 and £600,000 on the authority's annual budget.
The Sevenoaks councillor told the Local Democracy Reporting service: "We think that many of the trafficking organisations and gangs are very much putting out the message that you should try to get into the country before Brexit."
The cabinet member's revelation came earlier today following a public meeting of KCC's corporate parenting panel where Cllr Gough updated colleagues on the UASC situation at Maidstone County Hall.
During the meeting, Cllr Gough told the committee the "significant" rise of UASC numbers is expected to far exceed last year's levels where the county authority had 230 under its care.
"It's not people coming over on boats, which gets all the publicity, whereas what you do find is more of them coming through in lorries" - Cllr Roger Gough
The latest cohort of migrant children have travelled to Kent from war-torn Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, and most have hitched lorry rides to cross the Calais-Dover border through the Channel Tunnel.
Cllr Gough told the Local Democracy Reporting service: "Some of the traditional routes for young people being brought into the country have strengthened.
"Interestingly it's not people coming over on boats, which gets all the publicity.
"I mean there are one or two accompanied children within those groups, but that's fairly rare because most of those are adults, or, if there are children, they are accompanied.
"Whereas what you do find is more of them coming through in lorries."
KCC's mayor Cllr Ann Allen (Con), the chair of the committee, described the pressures as "concerning" while Cllr Ida Linfield (Lib Dem) asked Cllr Gough how the county authority would fare financially with the additional influx of migrants.
Concluding, Cllr Gough said in the meeting: "In the short run, this year we are looking at a shortfall of between £500k to £600k.
"Clearly that's unwelcome but it is the lowest it has been for the best part of 10 years when we tended to see figures in the £2.5 million range."