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Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children: record numbers arriving once again in Kent

Date:15 APR 2024
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The Children’s Commissioner has written a blog called "Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children: record numbers arriving once again in Kent".

She says: "My unique responsibility as Children’s Commissioner, enshrined in law, is to protect children and give them a voice – and I have a particular duty of care towards those children who aren’t able to live with their birth families.

That includes those arriving on these shores completely alone, having left their families to escape war, or lost them in terrible circumstances. For these children especially, I am fiercely determined to promote and champion their rights.

I was hugely reassured by the decision to close the hotels run by the Home Office, where children and young people were accommodated without sufficient regard to their safety, their right to care or their education. The Home Office should not have responsibility for these children, and I am grateful to their teams for their work with my office to ensure this remains the case.

However, as numbers arriving on the Kent coast begin to rise again dramatically – with record numbers arriving just this week – I am concerned that insufficient long-term solutions have been found to accommodate unaccompanied minors. I have repeatedly warned about the need to invest in more appropriate accommodation for children arriving in this country because, without this, we are in danger of repeating the problems of the past.

Unaccompanied children like those arriving in Kent are the responsibility of the local authority where they arrived. Once they have been processed by the Home Office, they should immediately be taken into the care of the relevant local authority, and where appropriate swiftly be transferred to the long-term care of local authorities across the country through the government’s National Transfer Scheme.

The local authority must provide an appropriate care placement, such as a children’s home or foster care. The Department for Education has responsibility for children’s social care, and – with the regulatory body Ofsted- making sure each local council is meeting its statutory duties towards these children. It is essential they work hand in glove with the Home Office, which is responsible for asylum claims and for ‘processing’ the individuals arriving across the Channel.

There are lots of professionals working hard in immensely challenging circumstances. My call to arms to government encompasses multiple authorities. This responsibility is a shared one and these are complex issues to solve."

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She continues: "But we must find a solution. Children who arrive here alone have often faced the worst kinds of trauma: war, violence, trafficking, death, disease, exploitation and a perilous journey by dinghy.

At the invitation of the Home Office, my Help at Hand team visited Dover earlier this month to understand more about how children are processed, and where children wait if they need to isolate due to a suspected infectious disease while awaiting local authority collection. My own research from November last year shows that more than 10% of unaccompanied children arriving between 2021 and 2023 noted to have particular ‘vulnerabilities’ were suffering from an infectious illness, including scabies, tuberculosis, diphtheria, monkey pox and Covid-19.

During this visit, my team of advocates was shown one isolation area of a possible three. It was a small, windowless, metal shipping container. There was no toilet inside. Inside was a small sink, a plastic bench and a child’s travel cot.

It is simply unacceptable for a child to then be faced with this kind of stark and unwelcoming setting while being ‘processed’ by authorities. I am deeply worried about what might happen if suitable accommodation for children who need to isolate is not urgently located by the local authority.

We need urgent action from all those in government to make sure that the children being processed in Dover can be moved to suitable homes or health settings quickly, and that hotels are never brought back into use."