Number of children crossing Channel to UK hits three-year high

The number of child migrants crossing the English Channel has risen to a three-year high, the latest figures show (Picture: Getty images)

The number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers arriving in Kent has hit a three-year high amid warnings about their treatment.

More than 300 arrived in the county after crossing in small boats during the current year to June, according to the latest figures.

In May, more than 100 made the journey, the highest figure for any month since 2019. The figures have been released as a report from MPs highlights the ‘wholly inappropriate’ arrangements for migrants found to be sleeping on floors in offices intended as a holding centre.

One campaign group that has repeatedly raised the issue told the conditions are tantamount to ‘deliberate cruelty’.

Overall, 313 children were being accommodated in Kent as of last week, the figures released by the county council under the Freedom of Information Act show. The cost of looking after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children was £17.7 million for the 2020 to 2021 financial year. has previously reported how the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in 2021 already exceeds last year’s total.

More than 100 unaccompanied child migrants arrived in Kent during May 2021, the latest figures show (Picture: Getty Images Europe)
A group of people thought to be migrants are escorted from a beach in Dungeness, Kent, by Border Force officers (Picture: PA)

Bridget Chapman, of Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN), said: ‘We have been flagging up this for some time so we are shocked but not surprised that we find ourselves in this situation again.

‘We saw this exact situation last year when Kent County Council said they weren’t able to keep taking unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

‘We have a lot of sympathy with the council because although the numbers are perfectly manageable across the country, it is a lot for one local authority. As a result, children and young people can’t be found suitable accommodation and are being held in massively unsuitable conditions in buildings in Dover and Folkestone.

‘A report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons last year highlighted how unacceptable the conditions were. The fact it has been repeatedly flagged up yet it is happening again is absolutely appalling and makes it seem like deliberate cruelty.’

Some of the young people who have opened up to KRAN of their own volition have described having relatives shot in conflict zones and witnessing people drown or suffer violence from people smugglers en-route to the UK.

Ms Chapman, a former secondary school teacher, has nevertheless witnessed many of those she has supported overcome their trauma and make a valuable contribution to society.

‘I have worked with some of these children and they are incredible, they are unfailingly committed to bettering themselves,’ she said.

‘Last summer they were arriving but there were not enough college places, which is a disaster for them and a disaster for the country because, whether people like it or not, they have strong asylum claims and are likely to be successful.

‘I have seen teenagers go on to work in care homes, vaccination centres, in hospitals and as delivery drivers, doing all kinds of really important jobs.

‘They are talked about as a problem that needs to be solved, but they can be massive assets to whichever community they join.’

An aerial view shows dinghies believed to have been used by migrants picked up at sea while crossing the English Channel (Picture: Ben Stanstall/AFP via Getty)
Children walk on a beach in Kent as a group of people thought to be migrants make their way to safety after arriving on a small boat (Picture: PA)

The figures have been revealed as the Home Affairs Committee warns that children are being housed in offices for more than 10 days.

The MPs, who made an unannounced visit to a holding unit in Kent, have written to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, expressing concern at the temporary accommodation for migrants who are crossing the Channel.

Committee chair Yvette Cooper and the other MPs made the visit to the Kent Intake Unit, which is inside the Port of Dover, where they found a room packed with asylum seekers who included young children, teenagers and women with babies. Many of those present were sitting or lying on thin mattresses spread across the floor.

In the letter, Ms Cooper said: ‘The holding room facility, in which detained asylum seekers wait for onward placement and screening, is wholly inappropriate. Yesterday there were 56 people packed into the small waiting room. The space is clearly unfit for holding this many people.’

Bridget Chapman warned that the UK risks losing valuable members of society (Picture: Bridget Chapman/ Kent Refugee Action Network/@_KRAN_)

The committee also visited an atrium, essentially an office, where they found a girl sleeping on a sofa. She was among children who have stayed for more than 10 days in the space, which Ms Cooper described as ‘completely inappropriate’.

The figures released to show that in the current year to June, 303 of the migrants have arrived in Kent by sea.

This compares to 113 in 2019 and 281 last year. The £17.7 milion cost of their accommodation and care was paid in a grant from the Home Office.

Migrants take part in an activity session organised by the Kent Refugee Action Network (Picture: Bridget Chapman/ Kent Refugee Action Network/@_KRAN_)

Kent County Council leader Roger Gough last month called on Ms Patel for ‘immediate help with resolving the crisis that is engulfing services’ for the children, outlining urgently needed measures including extra funding and a more equal distribution of migrants between local authorities.

Also writing to the Home Secretary, Mr Gough said: ‘We are at a point now where it is your immediate intervention that can prevent a crisis escalating into something unmanageable and unsafe for children. We need a national solution to this national problem.’

In its response to the committee, the Home Office said: ‘We take the welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children extremely seriously.

‘We are working tirelessly to move children on as swiftly as possible and to ensure they receive all the necessary support to make their stay at KIU [Kent Intake Unit] as comfortable as possible. We are committed to ensuring our short-term holding facilities are safe, secure, and humane.

‘The situation in Kent is fluid and changes on an hourly basis, but despite these pressures we are doing all we can both to support those children who are arriving and to source enough Local Authority placements to care for the arriving children as quickly as possible.’ has approached the Home Office for further comment.

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