Original article from Kent Live
The government has responded after Kent County Council threatened it with legal action over lone child asylum seekers.
The Home Office has addressed the administrative crisis in the county which has left the council unable to house any more unaccompanied child refugees for the second time in a year.
The council announced that it had reached maximum capacity on June 10, suspending further housing of unaccompanied children from June 14 onward.
The council has laid the blame with the National Transfer Scheme, which is meant to ensure all refugees and asylum seekers are distributed evenly across the country.
However it is currently a voluntary scheme requiring other councils to opt in.
Untold Stories – a new newsletter bringing together the very best journalism about and for our underserved and minority communities from across the south east.
Simply press here to enter your email address and get news, features and plenty more besides direct to your inbox.
And subscribe to the KentLive newsletter here for the latest breaking news and updates.
Newly announced reforms have been criticised by council leader Roger Gough as a "placebo", who stated that only a mandatory scheme would fully address the burden on Kent.
The council announced that it would await a response from the government before it proceeded with further legal action.
The Home Office has since addressed the council, with a spokesperson saying: “The Home Office is grateful for the role Kent County Council has played in supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and we have provided them with substantial operational support, including transferring those in need of support to other local authorities in the UK.
KentLive uses the term people when referring to those who cross the Channel and arrive on our shores.
That's because, regardless of their status at the point of entry, those moving from one country to the other are human beings.
You will have seen them commonly referred to as migrants. This is not incorrect.
The UN Migration Agency defines a migrant as – any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a state away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of the person’s legal status, whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary, what the causes for the movement are, or what the length of the stay is.
KentLive also refers to people in these circumstances as refugees.
The UN definition of refugees is – people who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalised violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.
“We recently announced vital updates to the National Transfer Scheme to alleviate pressures on certain areas and continue to work closely across government on provision for unaccompanied minors.”
The Home Office's response however does not address many criticisms of the new reforms made by the council in their earlier statement.
Council leader Roger Gough insisted in his initial comment that the issue is not of a national scale – but a local one.
He said: “If every other local authority in the UK were to take two or three under 18-year-olds who arrive at Dover into their care, Kent’s numbers would reduce to the council’s safe allocation immediately.
"This remains, a small problem for the nation to resolve but a huge and unreasonable responsibility for Kent.”
The new plans for the National Transfer Scheme won't make transfers mandatory, nor will it require other councils to sign up.
Gough continued: "I am deeply disappointed that, after having admitted that the voluntary scheme is not working, government have still not invoked their powers to mandate and the proposed new National Transfer Scheme announced today remains voluntary.
“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."
Bridget Chapman, a spokesperson for the Kent Refugee Action Network, echoed Gough's calls for a fundamental overhaul of the existing system.
Ms Chapman, speaking on the issue last year, said: "The National Transfer system needs to be reinstated immediately so children can be transferred to a local authority, who are the appropriate people to be looking after them."
It remains to be seen if Kent County Council will proceed with legal action against the Home Office following this response, though a decision is expected "in due course".