Sunday, October 24, 1999 Published at 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK
Child asylum seekers 'denied education'
United Nations says all children have a right to education
Hundreds of child asylum seekers are being deprived of schooling in breach of international rules giving them the right to education, it has been claimed.
Local authorities say they are struggling to bear the burden of finding school places for a massive influx of children fleeing to Britain.
A survey found that 500 children of refugees and asylum seekers in the Kent port of Dover alone were not receiving any kind of education.
The Home Office is holding urgent discussions with the Department for Education and local education authorities to rectify the problem, after concerns were raised by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Education a 'right'
"This is something that we are taking a serious interest in. We have met with the Home Office to discuss this issue and have received an undertaking that it will be looked at," said a UNHCR spokeswoman.
Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said the allegations were a blow to the government's credibility on immigration issues.
"The government's policy on asylum seekers is already under wide-ranging attack.
"News that children also being considered for asylum or already accepted are being refused education is just the latest embarrassment."
Two-year wait for school
The study, carried out by the makers of a BBC Radio 4 documentary Strangers on the Shore - to be aired on 25 October at 2000 BST - found that an influx of asylum seekers and refugees into Kent had left education bosses unable to cope.
Officials at the Home Office said measures to ensure schooling facilities are made available to child refugees and asylum seekers were being included in the Immigration and Asylum Bill currently going through Parliament.
Some children in Dover, where many asylum seekers are Romany gypsies who have fled Slovakia and the Czech Republic, are still waiting for a school place after two years, the programme says.
One nine-year-old Slovakian boy, who has waited six months for an offer of schooling, said: "I am sad because I am bored. The only time I can go to something that looks like school is a church where we play and learn English.
"But that's only on Tuesday - the rest of the week I watch telly. I have nowhere to play."
Kent bears brunt
Kent County Council is setting up a team to help immigrant children to integrate into the education system.
"It is not fair on teachers or children to put pupils in a school when they do not know how much longer they will be there."
Dover and the Kent have borne the brunt of the increase in the number of asylum seekers. An estimated 5,000 are currently living in the region at a cost of £14m in the current year.
But more than 80,000 asylum seekers are expected in the year to April 2000 - compared to the original government forecast of 58,000.