11 Jun Kent to turn away lone child migrants from Monday due to “extreme pressure”
Kent County Council says it will not be taking on any unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Monday as it has reached “the limit of safe capacity”.
The council has threatened legal action against the Home Secretary over the “extreme pressure” on its services.
More than 400 such children are in the care of the council. The government’s recommended maximum number is 231.
The Home Office on Thursday announced measures encouraging other local authorities to take on child migrants.
Kent County Council (KCC) had to take similar action in August.
Children arriving next week will be taken by Border Force to the Kent Intake Unit at Dover.
They would usually then be passed on to KCC, but now they will now remain the responsibility of the Home Office, who will have to find places for them with other local authorities, KCC said.
By Mark Easton, Home Editor, BBC News
For a Conservative council to threaten a Conservative Home Secretary with legal action is indicative of the frustration and anger felt in Kent at the unfolding crisis hitting the county for the second time in ten months.
Unless another council agrees to help, Kent County Council has a legal duty to take care of any unaccompanied child migrant that arrives among the thousands of asylum seekers who turn up on its coast each year.
But Kent’s leaders say the current voluntary transfer scheme is not good enough, and despite extra government cash and a new rota system, it is inevitable that highly vulnerable children at the end of a long and traumatic journey will be left in a psychologically-damaging limbo.
This Tory authority appears determined to follow through on its threat to take the Home Secretary to court unless she forces other local authorities to share the burden.
Priti Patel, however, is reluctant to oblige councils to take responsibility for child asylum-seekers.
Council leader Roger Gough said: “I am profoundly saddened to be in this unthinkable position once again in such a short period of time.
“Despite warnings, and continued dialogue with government, Kent’s UASC [unaccompanied asylum-seeking children] support resources are again significantly overwhelmed.”
Mr Gough said no further arrivals could be accepted until “sufficient transfers have been made outside of Kent bringing our numbers back to safe levels”.
He said it was “a small problem for the nation to resolve but a huge and unreasonable responsibility for Kent”.
KCC has taken its first steps in legal action against Home Secretary Priti Patel and wants her to make other councils take “their fair share”. Without any substantive response to its proposals by 17 June, KCC said it would issue a claim for judicial review.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Office is grateful for the role KCC has played in supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and we have provided them with substantial operational support, including transferring those in need of support to other local authorities in the UK.
“We recently announced vital updates to the National Transfer Scheme to alleviate pressures on certain areas and continue to work closely across Government on provision for unaccompanied minors.”
So far this year at least 4,449 migrants have crossed the English Channel in small boats, with 925 people arriving in Dover in the first 10 days of June.