Migrant children wrapped in lifejackets have been arriving in Dover after crossing the English Channel on Monday, as local children’s services say they are at breaking point.
A young boy with bare feet was seen being helped ashore after making the perilous 21-mile journey across the water.
Kent County Council has threatened legal action against the Home Secretary, saying it faces extreme pressure on its services for unaccompanied child migrants.
Charities have called on the Home Office to increase funding for children who arrive in the UK “completely alone and incredibly vulnerable”.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed to MPs that people are “absolutely fed up and demoralised” by the number of migrants crossing via the English Channel.
Also on Monday, police confirmed that the body of a baby found on a Norwegian beach is that of a Kurdish-Iranian boy who went missing in the English Channel last year.
Fifteen-month-old Artin was onboard an overcrowded migrant boat heading for the UK with his parents and two siblings when it capsized, claiming all five of their lives.
Monday’s arrivals in Dover come as Kent County Council is threatening Priti Patel with legal action in a row about what happens to unaccompanied children who arrive in the town seeking asylum.
The authority said it may no longer be able to accept new unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) within days – a situation which came to pass in August 2020.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We recognise the longstanding role that Kent County Council has played in supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and are extremely grateful for their contribution.
“We continue to encourage more areas to join the National Transfer Scheme and do their part.”
The proposed judicial review asks Ms Patel to use existing powers to direct local authorities other than Kent to receive their fair share of UASCs.
Clare Moseley, founder of migrant charity Care4Calais, said: “These children are completely alone and incredibly vulnerable.
“They have arrived in the UK after making a dangerous journey that would terrify most adults.
“The Government has a duty of care but once again it appears that legal action is the only way to make the Home Secretary to recognise this.”
Speaking to MPs, Ms Patel said her French counterparts “absolutely must do more” to respond to migrant numbers and reduce the chances of people attempting to cross the Channel.
Boris Johnson spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron in a telephone call ahead of this week’s G7 summit in Cornwall and “raised the need for redoubled efforts to deter migrants from attempting this perilous journey following the concerning rise in incidents over recent weeks”, Downing Street said.
It came as several Conservative MPs put pressure on the UK Government to act, with Border Force described as “little more than a taxi service for illegal migrants”.
The dangerous sea journey from France – made by more than 3,000 people including children so far in 2021 – has claimed many lives in the past.
Among them were Rasoul Iran-Nejad and his wife Shiva Mohammad Panahi, who died along with their three children when their boat capsized on October 27 2020.
Their 15-month-old son Artin was reported missing following the tragedy and it was not until Monday that police confirmed that a body found on the Norwegian coast was that of the young boy.
His body is set to be returned to his family in his home country of Iran, Norwegian police told the PA news agency.
Artin’s family had sold their house before leaving Iran and paid £14,000 to get on to the boat, with a further £8,200 supposed to be due when they arrived safely in the UK.
Ms Patel said at the time that the deaths were “an ultimate tragedy” and one that “could have been avoided”.
Meanwhile, MPs on Monday heard the Home Secretary’s decision on whether she would appeal against the High Court ruling on Napier Barracks was “imminent”.
Six asylum seekers previously housed in the former Army barracks in Kent won a legal challenge against the Government last week after a judge ruled their accommodation was inadequate.
Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft said the department was studying the judgment “carefully” and “will work out what it means for our ongoing use of the barracks”.