In the upper floor of a redbrick townhouse that has seen smarter days, in a room overheating as a result of too many bodies in too small a space, 29 teenagers have turned up for an evening class on human rights.
The room is big enough to hold 12 people, said the Red Cross project leader, Robert Lloyd. But he has seen the numbers coming to the makeshift advice centre for young refugees in Gravesend, Kent, double in the past few weeks. Lloyd, the only staff member, works with five volunteers. They were supposed to be supporting 65 young people here, but so far the number is 165 and rising.
Aged from 13 to 18, the boys and girls who come here are from Somalia, Eritrea, Albania, Afghanistan, Sudan and Iran. What they have in common is that they arrived in the UK on their own, looking for asylum from traumatic lives.
As the local authority where the children first arrive – usually through Dover – Kent county council has a legal requirement to look after them. Kent has no more foster placements available and is short of social workers. Recruitment drives for both are ongoing, but in the meantime the private sector is filling the gaps, often at double the cost.
As of Friday, Kent bore responsibility for 720 such children, with more expected yesterday and a funding shortfall of £6.5m, said its council’s head of children’s services, Peter Oakford. He points out that many local authorities across England, further from the coast, don’t have any such young refugees.by