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Kent County Council exceeds limit agreed with Home Office for numbers of unaccompanied asylum seeker children

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The government is facing renewed calls to make a dispersal scheme for child asylum seekers compulsory after social services chiefs said there were signs that fewer councils were coming forward to ease the pressure on Kent.

Cllr Sue Chandler, the cabinet member for children’s services, said the county council had edged to its agreed limit for vulnerable children crossing the Channel after a rise in numbers making the perilous journey.

Kent county councillor Sue Chandler
Kent county councillor Sue Chandler

Speaking at a county council scrutiny meeting, she said the agreement with the Home Office on safe care and reception of young child asylum seekers had been working but the strain on the council was increasing. (Nov 18)

She said: “The number of children arriving in small boats has been rising, although the transfer [to other councils] has not been as swift as the Home Office wanted and the speed of transfer has been slowing.”

Thirty nine children had been taken in the week before, of which 11 were under the age of 16 and 13 were 15- to 16-year-olds, she added.

That meant KCC was now above the level agreed with the Home Office and the authority would not be taking any more until the total number of looked-after children from outside the UK the council looked after was reduced to below 360.

Meanwhile, a senior Labour councillor says the government should restore cuts to its foreign aid budget to help manage the continuing crisis of thousands of would-be asylum seekers crossing the channel to the UK.

RNLI crews rescue a group from a dinghy. Picture: RNLI
RNLI crews rescue a group from a dinghy. Picture: RNLI

Cllr Hugo Pound, the leader of the Labour opposition group on Tunbridge Wells council, said the money could be spent on processing centres or safe camps nearer to where asylum seekers were coming from.

Speaking on the latest edition of “Paul on Politics” on KMTV, he said: “We need to fund methods by which people can remain nearer to the place from which they have moved, whether that is Syria,Somalia or Afghanistan.

"To do that you need International Development funds.

"One of the things we have been calling for ever since it was first mooted has been to bring back the cut to the foreign aid budget so we can fund exactly this sort of thing.

“We need to recognise our responsibility is to help people reside safely and closer to where they have come from and that is just not happening at the moment.”

An empty dinghy is towed into Dover Marina following a large group of people being brought ashore by Border Force. Picture: Sam Lennon
An empty dinghy is towed into Dover Marina following a large group of people being brought ashore by Border Force. Picture: Sam Lennon

He criticised Home Secretary Priti Patel, saying there was no meaningful dialogue taking place with the French authorities.

“She has done a huge amount of blaming of other parties but I can't think of a single action she has taken.”

Cllr Dan Watkins, Conservative councillor on Canterbury City Council, said: “The question is why they come to Britain when they are clearly very safe in France and half a dozen other countries before they even get to France.”

One possible solution could be to adopt the same approach to helping refugees that the government led by David Cameron had done in Syria.

“We took refugees in controlled numbers but they were taken out of camps in Turkey, closer to where they came from.”

That would deter more people from taking “the perilous journey” crossing the English channel, he said.

Meanwhile, a task force will reportedly consider strategies including housing asylum seekers in Army barracks rather than hotels as the Government faces criticism over the migrant crisis.

Boris Johnson has drafted in Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay to oversee the issue of the rising number of migrants arriving on Britain’s shores, The Sunday Times reported.

Mr Barclay will chair the first meeting of the group early this week after hundreds of people, including very young children, made the dangerous Channel crossing to the UK over the weekend, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The initiative will consider the accommodation idea, the possibility of cutting benefits, if return agreements can be strengthened as well as “offshoring” to third countries while claims are processed, the paper said.

More than 24,700 people have arrived in the UK so far this year after making the Channel crossing in small boats – almost three times the number there were in 2020.

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