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For migrant children fleeing war and persecution the English Channel crossing is one part of a terrifying journey, charity explains

 The RNLI tows a small boat into Dover, Kent, following a number of small boat incidents in the Channel on August 15 2020. Picture by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent

For migrant children fleeing persecution and forced military service, the cold and dangerous trip across the English Channel is just one part of their long and scary journey.

Some seek safety from violence perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State in "lawless" Iraq while others have been sent away by their families to stop them being forced into a life as a child soldier, a charity says.

Many of the young people who arrive in Dover in dinghies have travelled across Europe with no parents, guardians or relations with them.

Until recently they have been taken into the care of Kent County Council but yesterday it announced it had reached capacity.

Hundreds of migrant children cared for in Kent are supported by the Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN), which provides help and support to asylum seekers and refugees.

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Bridget Chapman, a caseworker for Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN). Hundreds of migrant children cared for in Kent are supported by KRAN, which provides help and support to asylum seekers and refugees. Picture by PA Wire

Bridget Chapman, a caseworker for KRAN, told the PA news agency: "We don't tend to ask too many direct questions about where people have come from and why they've come because obviously the reasons can be traumatic.

"So any information we've got is information that people have chosen to share with us and it's not comprehensive."

Many of the young people arriving in Kent on dinghies are Kurdish and have come from Iraq and Iran, she says.

"The ones coming from Iraq say it's just lawless there, and that Isis are roaming the country effectively, torturing and killing people."

She said that talk of an "invading force" of "fighting age" migrants arriving in Dover is "ironic" because so many are fleeing their country rather than face a lifetime of forced military service.

"A story I've heard a number of times is that the Taliban turned up at a home, told the family that they were going to be coming to get the son in the family and the family did everything they could to get that young person away from that situation.

"Eritrea is another country we get a lot of people from where people are looking at indefinite military service, military service for life.

"The young people are mostly coming precisely because they want to be somewhere peaceful and to build their lives."

Ms Chapman says she often hears of young people being put in the hands of a people smuggler by their parents and becoming reliant on that group of people for their existence.

She said: "They were passed from one group to another group, told to get into this lorry, onto that bus, into that car and sooner or later they find themselves in the UK but they didn't really have any choice about that. The whole journey sounds incredibly traumatic.

"The people smugglers need to keep people under control so you hear about food being withheld, water being withheld, people being assaulted, it's a pretty grim journey."

A group of people, thought to be migrants, are brought to shore at Dover in Kent by Border Force officers on August 15 2020. Picture by Gareth Fuller, PA Wire 

On arrival at the French coast there are stories of migrants being handed a dinghy in a box and being told to pump it up.

"I've heard people when they saw the size of the boat and the number of people that were getting in it saying that they were refusing to get in it and they were threatened, hit and told that they were getting in.

"And people say that the journey was, even on really hot days, the water is cold and you get wet, you get really wet.

"People say that they were cold, many of them said that they thought they were going to die."

KRAN seeks donations and their website can be accessed at https://kentrefugeeactionnetwork.wordpress.com/donate/

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