An English local authority is poised to take the UK Home Office (interior ministry) to court over an apparent lack of support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Kent County Council, whose jurisdiction includes the port of Dover, has given the government ministry an ultimatum of June 17 before it issues a claim for judicial review.
Since the beginning of 2021 a total of 242 unaccompanied youngsters have arrived on Kent’s shores of which just 52 have been transferred elsewhere in Britain.
In a statement on Monday the council said its services have reached “breaking point”, with more than double the number being cared for in the county than the government says is safe.
It follows a similar plea from Kent last year, after which the Home Office and Department for Education promised to reform the national system.
Roger Gough, the council’s director of children’s services, said: ” I am deeply saddened that we are now seeing a repeat of the same crisis of nine months ago.
“Once again Kent services are at risk of being overwhelmed by the number of new UASC (unaccompanied asylum-seeking children) arrivals by boat, which already stands at 60 more children than at the same time last year.
“Enough is enough. A robust, long-term solution is well overdue and critical for the future welfare of all children supported by KCC, whatever their background, and the continuation of the excellent services that support them.”
The proposed judicial review would call on UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to use her existing powers to make Britain’s National Transfer Scheme, in which local councils take on unaccompanied children from other, more stretched local authorities, mandatory rather than voluntary.
It comes days after Ms Patel lost another legal fight over migration. A High Court judge ruled on Friday that housing migrants at a military barracks in Folkestone, Kent had been unlawful.
From April 2020 to March 2020, lone children made a total of 2,044 asylum claims in the UK compared to 3,530 in the previous 12 months. The decrease was attributed to fewer flights and sea crossings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A Home Office spokeswoman said the body was “extremely grateful” for the longstanding role Kent County Council had played in supporting refugee children.
She added: “We continue to encourage more areas to join the National Transfer Scheme and do their part.
“We have already consulted on how to improve the scheme to make it fairer, the outcome of which will be published very shortly.”