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Kent council cannot accept more child refugees due to ‘overwhelmed’ services

KENT County Council is refusing to accept any more unaccompanied asylum-seeker children, warning that its services have reached breaking point for a second time in a year. 

Council leaders said that the number already in its care had returned to “unsafe levels,” despite repeated warnings to the government that local services were struggling to cope. 

They spoke out after threatening legal action against the Home Office over the “extreme pressure” on the council’s services. 

The local authority is currently looking after more than 400 unaccompanied child asylum-seekers — almost double the recommended maximum number — up from 274 since the start of the year. 

The maximum recommended by the government is 231, the council said.

Council leader Roger Gough said that he was saddened to be in this “unthinkable position” again just 10 months after the last time that the local authority was overwhelmed. 

He warned that, from June 14, the council will not take in new children until “sufficient transfers have been made outside of Kent, bringing our numbers back to safe levels.”

Mr Gough expressed disappointment that Home Secretary Priti Patel has refused to use her existing powers to force other councils to take their fair share of unaccompanied asylum-seeker children under the national transfer scheme for such youngsters. 

“As we have experienced over the past few years, there is absolutely no evidence that a voluntary national transfer scheme has kept pace with the ever-escalating new arrivals on our shores,” he said. 

“If every other local authority in the UK were to take two or three under 18-year-old [unaccompanied asylum-seeker children] who arrive at Dover into their care, Kent’s numbers would reduce to the council’s safe allocation immediately.”

The council’s proposal for a judicial review asks Ms Patel to direct other councils other than Kent to take in their fair share of unaccompanied minors. 

A Home Office spokesman said it has provided the council with “substantial operational support, including transferring those in need of support to other local authorities in the UK.”

The department was also urged to fix its broken financial support scheme for asylum-seekers, which is leaving whole families to go hungry. 

Last month, thousands of asylum-seekers were left without their weekly stipend after a botched contract transfer stopped their Aspen cards from working. 

In a letter to Ms Patel reported by the Independent today, more than 50 refugee and asylum organisations said the situation was “one of the worst asylum crises we’ve ever experienced.”

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