Parents have taken to the streets to protest against a migrant holding centre for young men being set up in a derelict care home, just metres from a nursery and a junior school. The parents are angry that they were not consulted, and that high fences will be erected, saying that they want to send their young children to a school, not a prison.
Kent County Council (KCC) has been hit hard by the migrant crisis at Calais as it is legally responsible for minors making the crossing into Dover until they are 25 years old. One of the foster agencies used by KCC reported a 500 percent increase in the number of children it was being asked to place by the council, in comparison to the same time last year.
Running short on spaces, it has opted to refurbish the former Ladesfield care home in Whitstable to provide 35 beds for boys aged 16 to 18. The care home, which was closed in 2011 thanks to lack of funds, is next to Joy Lane Primary School and Whitstable Day Nursery, as well as the town’s Age UK Centre, the Kent Messenger has reported.
On Saturday, dozens of local residents, including parents of children at the school, congregated outside the town’s library in protest at the plans.
Victoria Madden, mother to two children at the school, said:
“The protest is about the fact we were not told and had no chance to voice our opinions on the housing of 16, 17 and 18-year-old ‘young men’ – as they put it in our meeting – probably no more than 20 feet from the school.
“They’re talking about putting up six foot fences, 24 hour security – I didn’t send my kids to school for it to be a prison. I sent my kids to school so they had the free run of the playground without wondering what’s behind the six foot fence.”
“Nobody’s spoken to us to allay our fears. We’ve just been told it’s happening, get used to it,” she said. “They’re not even assessed until they get to Ladesfield. It’s holding facility. There’s no risk assessments.
“I’m not in any way against taking them in, but location is the main thing. You’ve got a nursery, Age Concern, and Joy Lane primary, all within 20 feet.”
Local resident Mick O’Shea, voiced concerns about the background of the migrants, questioning their asylum seeking status:
“We’re a very small island. The British have been renowned for hundreds and hundreds of years for helping people, it doesn’t matter in what situation,” he said.
“But these people that are crossing the channel now are not a pretty sight – they’re fit, strong, full grown fighting people. To me they’re not refugees, these are economic migrants.
“And possibly – and we don’t know because everything’s destroyed when they get to Calais documentation-wise – they could be potential terrorists too.”
Another Joy Lane parent, Emma Sands, was angry at the council’s decision to refurbish the centre for the migrants when it had been uwilling to do so for the elderly people who had previously lived there. Ms Sands said that had kept her nine-year-old daughter Tia off school on the last day of term in protest at KCC’s plans.
“I sympathise, if they are coming from war torn countries,” she said. “But we are a very small country, we’re taking on far too many, and we can’t even look after our own elderly or homeless – that’s really what we feel those buildings should be used for.
“Our elderly were thrown out of Ladesfield because it was uninhabitable yet now the council are going to plough money into it for immigrants while we’re not looking after our own first.”
Both Ms Sands and another parent who did not want to be named said that they were now looking into alternative schools for their children. “One of our concerns is that the authorities won’t be able to keep proper control over these young men some of whom may require counselling after seeing conflict in their home countries,” the other parent said.
A KCC spokesman has told the Express that the use of the old people’s home is just a temporary fix, and that the home will be demolished in six months to make way for an extension to Joy Lane primary.
In a letter addressed to parents at the school, Peter Oakford, the council’s specialist children’s services boss, wrote:
“Kent County Council has a duty of care towards all unaccompanied asylum seeking children who arrive in Kent. These young people have often experienced traumatic journeys and have fled from extremely distressing situations and require our care and support.
“Ladesfield was chosen due to its suitability and availability. It is intended that the property at Ladesfield will be used for a short period of time.
“Young people are supported in a reception centre for a maximum period of six to eight weeks each. During this time, their social care, education and health needs are assessed and care plans put in place.”