THE number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children arriving into Worcestershire has increased four-fold in two years, sparking serious concern.

Children as young as 12 are arriving in the county and declaring themselves to be refugees, meaning they are automatically taken into care.

Worcestershire County Council says they are coming over from countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Vietnam, using tactics like hiding on lorries to get into the UK.

By law, councils have a legal responsibility to care for refugees aged under-18 who arrive in their area from abroad.

Figures from the end of March reveal how there are 30 asylum seeking children in the county, with significant year-on-year rises.

The figure was just seven in March 2015 but rose to 17 one year later, before increasing again to its current level.

The group are costing well over £1 million to look after.

Almost two-thirds of them are aged 16 or17 but the rest are considerably younger, some just 12.

Bosses at County Hall are in regular talks with a regional partnership alongside other councils, who are taking advice from the Home Office on it.

The extra demand on the council comes at a time when there are over 700 children in care in Worcestershire, costing over £77 million.

Just under half the asylum seeking children are living in foster care, while the older ones are in supported living accommodation.

None of the group came into Worcestershire from the 'National Transfer Scheme', a Government-led programme to house child asylum seekers.

Nor does the number include any of the Syrian refugees housed in Worcestershire under a separate Home Office-funded project, with 50 arrivals now living in Worcester, Kidderminster and Redditch.

A council spokesman said: "In Worcestershire we have experienced an increase in unscheduled unaccompanied asylum seeking children arriving in our county in the last year.

"Since May 2016 our unscheduled unaccompanied asylum seeking children have almost doubled from 17 to 30, making Worcestershire's current level four per cent of our total looked after children - in March 2015 we only had seven."

Ruth Forecast, from Amnesty International, said: "We are very concerned about the situation - we keep on asking questions about this."

Claire Davies, of Bromsgrove & Redditch Welcome Refugees, said she felt the county should do more and questioned the figures and how they compare nationally.

"There is a humanitarian crisis happening, we cannot turn our back on these children," she said.

"They are fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty. On top of that, the longer we ignore the causes of climate change, the more people will become displaced by flooding, drought and extreme weather.

"I am thankful that these children now have somewhere safer to live."

She added: "For those that have made the perilous journey here, I welcome them with open arms."

The migration crisis has led to more than 8,000 refugee children being granted leave to stay in Britain since September last year, more than half from Syria.