Kent County Council has announced it will begin to admit unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) into its reception centres again amid the lodging of a judicial review application against the local authority and the Home Office over the issue of placing them in unregulated accommodation.
Charity Detention Action is seeking to bring Kent and the Home Office to court over the practice of housing UASC, who have crossed the English Channel, in unregulated hotel accommodation.
Inspections of the accommodation found children sleeping on the floor for "days/overnight" with strangers, the charity claimed.
Director Bella Sankey said the charity believes Home Secretary Priti Patel and Kent are "breaking the law, imprisoning children and then subjecting them to neglect in hotels across the southeast".
Over £4k in donations have been made to help fund the charity's legal challenge, evidence gathering, and campaign to raise awareness of the issue.
Responding to the judicial review bid in a statement yesterday (9 September), Kent warned that the current level of arrivals across the Channel made it unlikely it would be able to safely accommodate all UASC arrivals on Kent’s shores.
Council leader Roger Gough revealed that the local authority was in "very" advanced discussions with the Home Office to develop a safe and sustainable solution for Kent to support those who arrive in the county.
"This reflects the realities of the government strategy for the distribution of UASC around all local authorities in the UK through the National Transfer Scheme, without our services being overwhelmed by the numbers of new arrivals," Cllr Gough said.
In June this year, Kent served a letter before action on the Home Office as it warned that it may no longer be able to accept new UASC, following an influx of children arriving on its shores. Kent said a total of 242 children arrived between January and June 2021, with only 52 being transferred to other local authorities.
Cllr Gough reiterated the council's demands yesterday and called upon the Home Secretary to use her power under the 2016 Immigration Act to make participation in the National Transfer Scheme mandatory for all local authorities.
He added that Kent would also keep all legal options open to pursue if necessary.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "We take the safeguarding of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children extremely seriously and have measures in place to ensure their immediate safeguarding and welfare needs are met whilst we find them more appropriate long term care placements under the voluntary national transfer scheme."
According to the spokesperson, the Home Office is working "around the clock" with local authorities to seek a permanent place for UASC across the UK.
"Many local authorities have already come forward and provided places over recent weeks, and we are very grateful for their support," the spokesperson said.