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Thursday, October 21, 1999 Published at 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK


Child refugees on the rise

A growing number of children are seeking safety from violent situations

The government should do more to help the growing number of child asylum seekers entering the UK, says a local authority.

The BBC's Geeta Guru-Murthy on child asylum seekers
Kent County Council wants to see children put on the fast-track for asylum assessment and is asking for more resources to deal with the problem of looking after them.

More than 670 unaccompanied children aged 11 to 15 have been smuggled into the UK in recent months, according to latest statistics.

Many of these are believed to have been found in trucks at the Kent port of Dover.

Kent County Council says the number of child refugees it is dealing is shooting up.

Its current caseload is more than 300 and it expects this to double by the end of the year.

The rise coincides with a general increase in asylum seekers numbers, mainly fuelled by the Kosovo conflict.


Social workers have set up a special centre to help the children, who are often traumatised.

Because of pressure on foster placements, they are temporarily placing up to 30 of the most vulnerable children in a field studies centre used by schools.

The children will then be found foster placements or, if they have extended family in the UK, they will be reunited with them.

Brenda Trench, chairman of the council's social services committee, called on the government to fast-track their cases.

The council says some young people are waiting as long as three years to have their applications decided.

During this time the council has a duty to act as the child's guardian.

She said: "The government must fast-track these youngster's cases so that they know what their future holds."

There is currently a huge backlog of asylum cases, although the government says its Immigration and Asylum Bill - which suffered a defeat in the House of Lords on Wednesday night - will go some way to tackling this.

Ms Trench added that the increasing number of child asylum seekers was stretching the council's foster care budget.

The council says a child asylum seeker costs the council between £800 and £1,800 a week, but it can only claim £400 a week back from the government.

Long distances

Many child refugees have travelled long distances. Often they do not know what their final destination is.

[ image: Special services often need to be set up for child refugees]
Special services often need to be set up for child refugees
A 15-year-old Afghan boy told the BBC how he had to pay smugglers to get him out of the country.

"They took us at night-time and put us in a truck," he said.

"If we said anything, the smugglers beat us. They said 'don't talk'."

Thirteen-year-old Farhad Amir, also from Afghanistan, said he missed his parents.

"It was their idea [for him to leave the country]," he said.

"They said I must go."

Rising numbers

The BBC's George Eykyn on Kent's new centre for children
Nick Hardwick of the Refugee Council said: "Child asylum seekers should be treated in the same way as we would want our own children to be treated if they were unfortunate enough to be in that position."

The Refugee Council is currently dealing with a 10-year-old from Sierra Leone.

"People need to remember that he is a frightened little boy first and a refugee second and that is how we should treat him," said Mr Hardwick.

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