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As Migrants Attempt Trip To The U.K., Many Who Make It Are Minors

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

So that's the view from Calais on the French side. We're going across the English Channel now, and I'm joined by Peter Oakford. He serves on the Kent County Council, where he is cabinet member for specialist children's services. And, Mr. Oakford, your perspective from the receiving end of the migrants who are coming across the tunnel - what's the view from where you are?

PETER OAKFORD: The view from where we are - it may be a little bit different. I think one has to consider that there are two types of migrants. There are the economic migrants that are coming across to United Kingdom for one reason, which are the older group. And then there are the younger migrants - the children - that are on their own. And that's the group that we're responsible for, and that's the group that we work with. And they arrive with us after long journeys, often having become ill on their journeys, sometimes malnourished and really in need of an awful lot of help.

BLOCK: How young are these migrants that you're talking about?

OAKFORD: These range from 13, 14 years old through to 17 years old. And that the vast majority of the young people that we're seeing now are the sort of 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds - the ones that are old enough to make the journey on their own.

BLOCK: And if they do make it across, what happens to them?

OAKFORD: Well, as soon as they make it across, they're intercepted in the Port of Dover, and we are then notified by the immigration services that they have minors. And then they're handed and over to Kent County Council, and they become a looked-after child. And once they're within our care, we are their corporate parents, and we are responsible for that young person from that moment forth.

BLOCK: How many young people are we talking about who have come across that are now in your care?

OAKFORD: As of today, we have 630. We have another 400 that have been with us awhile that are over 18 years old. But the issue is the rise of numbers that we've seen in recent weeks. We had 100 in June. We've had virtually 200 in July.

BLOCK: So where do they go? Who takes care of them? Where are they living?

OAKFORD: Well, if they're under 16 years old, then they're placed with foster parents. If they're 16 or 17, then they come into a reception center. And we will work with them then for a period of six weeks, where we do a number of assessments, including age assessments to make sure that they are the age they're claiming to be, health assessments, mental health assessments because they have had some very, very traumatic experiences.

We work with them then to make sure they understand the culture of the United Kingdom. And when we are in a position where we believe it's safe for them to be moved into the local community, we would move them into supported accommodation. So they're living independently, and they're starting their independent life, but they're still supported financially and physically by Kent County Council.

BLOCK: And are you seeing any end in sight?

OAKFORD: Not at this moment. Who can predict what will happen next week or the week after? But we're still seeing a rise each day, so we'll have to wait and see what happens through the coming weeks.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Oakford, thanks very much for talking with us.

OAKFORD: It's been my pleasure.

BLOCK: That's Peter Oakford. He's cabinet member for specialist children services with the Kent County Council. He spoke with us from Maidstone, England. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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