Children as young as six have arrived alone in Britain to claim asylum, council chiefs said yesterday as they warned of cultural issues around how some migrants treat women. Andrew Ireland, corporate director of social care, health and wellbeing at Kent county council, questioned what child protection efforts were taking place in the rest of Europe given that so many young people under 18 were ending up in Kent.
Mr Ireland said: “Some are clearly borderline [age] but many are not. How, not so much the immigration or nationality legislation, but straightforward child protection activity in some other countries allows that to happen, so that they arrive in Dover or through the Channel Tunnel, some 13, 14, some as young as six recently — that is very exceptional.”
He told the House of Lords EU home affairs subcommittee that a nationwide system should be put in place to allow the dispersal of child asylum seekers. “My concern . . . is that we are at the beginning of the season where the number of arrivals traditionally starts to increase. If we see a significant increase in numbers of arrivals without a national scheme in place, it is going to place a huge burden on one particular local authority, albeit one of the largest local authorities,” Mr Ireland said.
He said the authority faced a challenge in confronting social issues with respect to asylum seekers. “Some of the work we have done is very much about some of the norms and expectations and the society in which they will be living and moving and being educated. In particular, in some instances — a minority but the consequences can be very significant — are expectations and attitudes in respect of women,” Mr Ireland said.
In some cases children who have been in care in EU states because they have been abandoned by their parents “in transit” to the UK are then claimed by them on arrival in Britain, the committee was told.
Paul Chadwick, of Croydon borough council, warned that the ability of the council to ascertain the identity of the child was difficult and there was no documentation to support the parents who claimed them. He said possible sexual exploitation in schools was “a very real concern”. “The difficulty we find is around age assessments because there are concerns about the possible exploitations of pupils by adults claiming to be children and placed in school,” he said.
A spokesman for Croydon council said later: “There have been documented and reported cases of safeguarding concerns in these circumstances elsewhere in Europe and the UK. However, despite the large number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children we have dealt with over the years, our recognition of the risks and the care we have taken to minimise them has meant we have had no reported incidents in our schools.”Source (£)