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Kent County Council to re-open Swattenden Centre in Cranbrook for young asylum seekers as numbers grow

Kent County Council is re-opening a residential centre for teenage asylum seekers as figures show the authority has seen another spike in arrivals.

The county council is to use facilities at the Swattenden Centre in Cranbrook for up to 40 young refugees on a temporary basis - but has warned that other accommodation is likely to be needed.

It comes as figures show the number of migrant children entering Britain has continued to surge. In Kent, 100 youngsters were taken into care in Kent in just one month alone. 

The Swattenden Centre in Cranbrook
The Swattenden Centre in Cranbrook

The spiralling numbers arriving in the UK through Kent has left social services chiefs facing a £6m overspend on its budget for children at risk.

The Swattenden Centre was used by KCC to house young asylum seekers until 2012 and up until recently, the council has relied primarily on capacity at the Milbank centre in Ashford.

But the migrant crisis across Europe has seen a surge in arrivals of young asylum seekers and KCC says it needs more capacity.

It recently announced it intended to use a former residential care centre in Whitstable in east Kent for up to 50 teenage asylum seekers.

Social services chiefs say the increase in numbers has forced them to look elsewhere. Cllr Peter Oakford, cabinet member for children’s social services, said: “We need extra capacity as it is not possible to predict the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children who will arrive at the border in need of our care.”

He added: “Since June this year there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of arrivals. We have accommodated as many as is possible in our existing provision at Ashford, but it reached full capacity several weeks ago.”

“We therefore carried out an appraisal of all KCC properties to identify suitable buildings that could be used as a reception centre.”

There are now 720 unaccompanied children seeking asylum being looked after by Kent County Council, up from 630 at the beginning of August.

KCC was supporting around 220 unaccompanied asylum seeking children under the age of 18 in March last year, which rose to 369 in March of this year.

Cranbrook county councillor Sean Holden (Con) said he had been assured there would be a limit on 40 teenagers and he hoped they would be shown “comfort and care” by the community.

Suspected immigrants making their way to Kent. File picture
Suspected immigrants making their way to Kent. File picture

“The children coming here have come from hell. They are alone and scared. It is good and right that we help. This will not be some unruly influx. It will be no more than 40 teenagers who have fled the surreal horrors of Syria, or the Afghan Taliban or the terror of Eritrea.”

He added that Cranbrook would not notice their presence.

“I am told in other places they have tended to keep to the facility. If they do go into town they will probably be accompanied and I hope we can show them some comfort and care.

"When they have been assessed and helped with English and education they will go to a community, almost certainly outside Kent which, at present, is not able to offer any more placements.”

The influx of new arrivals has left KCC facing a significant increase in costs, with social services chiefs saying that it is already facing a budget shortfall of about £6m.

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