Fears over asylum-seeking children missing from hotels at rate of one a week
Asylum-seeking children are disappearing from Home Office hotels after being exposed to the risk of exploitation and human trafficking, charities have warned.
They disappear at the rate of one per week, data obtained by The Independent and other organizations are showing, and the whereabouts of dozens of vulnerable teenagers are unknown.
An open letter signed by 60 charities and activists said children as young as 11 had gone missing, adding: “Our concern for these children cannot be overstated.
“Already vulnerable, separated and traumatized, isolated from family support networks, they are most at risk of exploitation and trafficking.
“Some may have been trafficked before and are at significant risk of being trafficked again. They need – and are entitled to – care in foster homes or residential homes, with trained professionals to help them recover safely.
A freedom of information request from the charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (Ecpat) showed that 45 unaccompanied child asylum seekers disappeared from hotels between June last year and the end of March, while a separate request for The Independent showed the figure was 16 between July and November last year.
The Interior Ministry dramatically increased its use of hotels as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers at the start of the Covid pandemic, and again for the influx of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine.
At the end of June, 355 unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors aged 11 to 18 were accommodated in hotels.
The open letter, written by Ecpat and Children England and signed by groups including the Refugee Council and Asylum Aid, called the arrangements an “unofficial shadow system in which children, data now shows, can disappear from the seen”.
“There is an urgent need to act,” he added. “The use of Home Office hotel rooms must end and the central government must invest in proper care for children, so that local authorities can accept and support every child who arrives on our shores without a parent or guardian, as the law dictates.”
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This follows a report by the UN Refugee Agency and the British Red Cross warning that long delays in asylum decisions were pushing people to “accept offers of work in unsafe and difficult conditions”. ‘exploitation’.
He found evidence that “visible and large-scale accommodations in hostels, hotels and multi-occupancy houses are being targeted by traffickers”.
The Home Affairs Committee also expressed concern in a recent report that “urgent action” to prevent exploitation was needed and that growing waits for government decisions – some 550 days on average for asylum applications he children – were a ‘major factor motivating asylum seekers’ decisions to leave a life in limbo by acting for themselves’.
Addressing parliament last month, committee chair Dame Diana Johnson said: ‘The practice of placing unaccompanied children in hotels has resulted in the disappearance of an unknown number of children, either temporarily , or, in some cases, permanently.
“We recommend that the government urgently confirms who is responsible for protecting these children and tells us what it is doing to prevent lonely and potentially vulnerable children from simply disappearing from view into unknown hands and a unknown future.”
A separate report by the Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration found that failures in processing migrants arriving on small boats meant that children and victims of trafficking were not always correctly identified and did not have adequate support.
“The flight of migrants, vulnerable or not, remained a problem in early 2022,” he added.
A 2021 report by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons found that some child asylum seekers had been accidentally sent to adult detention centres. He also said that interviews with social workers did not always take place and children were sent alone in taxis to accommodation.
The Home Office has ordered councils to take part in a previously voluntary scheme to deliver care placements across the country, after Kent County Council said it no longer had the capacity to look after them, but said the hotels were still being used “out of necessity” on a temporary basis.
Responding to a parliamentary question in June, Minister Tom Pursglove said unaccompanied asylum-seeking children spent an average of 15.5 days in hotels before leaving and were “supported by comprehensive care, including from health professionals, social workers and nurses”.
He added that the Home Office is the sole occupant of the hotels used for children alone and no other guests can stay there.
A government spokesperson said: “Due to the continuing and significant increase in arrivals of migrants using unsafe and unsafe methods to enter the UK, we are facing unprecedented levels of demand for accommodation in hotel for unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
“Any missing child is extremely serious, which is why we are working closely with local authorities and police to enforce strong missing person protocols to ensure their whereabouts are known and they are safe.
“We work to ensure that vulnerable children receive placements that are tailored to their needs.”