Kent 'neglecting' refugee children

More than 200 Kosovan children who arrived in Kent after fleeing Serbian persecution have no school place.

Many children have not been to school for nearly a year since seeking asylum in the UK.

The Refugee Council estimates there are 1,000 school-age Kosovans in Britain with almost half settled near Kentish ferry ports. Most arrive at Folkestone or Dover and settle there or in the neighbouring seaside towns of Margate, Ramsgate and Deal.

Jill Rutter, Refugee Council education adviser, says Kent has neglected its legal obligation to provide children with school places, and that prejudice against refugees has made schools reluctant to take the children.

But the education authority says it has been swamped by the influx of refugees while there is already considerable pressure on school places. It has set up an education project to support the asylum-seekers' children already in school, but unplaced children have received little or no help.

The Refugee Council is to meet with Charles Clarke, the school standards minister, later this month to ask him to resolve the situation.

Ms Rutter said: "We have had huge fights with Kent to try to get these children into school. Many have been in this country and out of school for more than a year.

"Even if its schools are full it still has to provide education for all its children.

"Kent is completely neglecting its responsibilities under both national and international law. It has been given the same money as other authorities and if London boroughs can cope with much greater numbers Kent should be able to manage."

A spokeswoman for Kent County Council said places had been found for 150 children. She said: "Over the past 18 months there has been an increase in the number of asylum-seekers from different parts of Europe and Kent is currently supporting 1,400 asylum-seekers which includes 390 children. More are arriving every day so it is impossible for us to make forecasts about resolving the situation.

"We have written to the Government to request additional financial support and are trying to get these children into school as quickly as possible."

The growing Kosovan community in Britain is clustered around the ports and motorways. Many have settled in Thurrock, near the container port at Purfleet, and in south-east London because of its motorway links to Kent.

The first arrivals settled in the London boroughs of Brent, Camden and Westminster where there are now established communities. Slough, Peterborough and Milton Keynes have also become home to Kosovans because of the transport links out of London.

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