200 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are missing from Home Office hotel accommodation.
By Abbie Biggin, Advocacy Volunteer
What is the situation?
The Home Office uses six hotels to accommodate unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. These children have reportedly been abducted from the street and placed into cars.
Many of the missing children travelled to the UK on small boats, and 88% of those missing (176 young people) are Albanians. Many will have fled war-torn countries, and have been subject to abuse and exploitation during their journey to the UK. There is a fear that these vulnerable children have been, or will be, targeted by criminal networks. The Home Office has failed to take care of this extremely vulnerable group of children.
We joined over 100 charities in writing to the Prime Minister to communicate our concern for these children. This open letter – available here – puts pressure on the Home Office to end the use of hotels for housing these children, and to move them into the care of social services.
Hotels began to be used to accommodate unaccompanied children in July 2021, when Kent County Council were no longer able to take children crossing the channel into social care. Although this was described as a short-term, emergency measure, the policy has been in place ever since. Unbelievably, children went missing from asylum hotels 440 times between July 2021 and July 2022.
According to David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, these hotels represent a failure to operate a child-centered approach. There is a lack of mental health support for those in hotels, which will have detrimental consequences to children suffering with severe trauma that requires immediate treatment.
How has this been allowed to happen?
There has been no clear attribution of who has legal responsibility for these children and their safety; neither the Home Office nor local authorities want to take responsibility, both attributing accountability to the other. Children slip through the cracks as a result of these grey areas regarding who must safeguard them.
Although the Immigration Minister, Robert Jernick, has stated that the Home Office are considering taking full corporate responsibility for these unaccompanied children, a decision is yet to be made on this.
All unaccompanied children in hotels are vulnerable to exploitation. David Neal reported that, in two of the hotels used by the Home Office, not all staff had been DBS checked. There has been a distinct lack of appropriate measures taken by the Home Office to ensure the safety of both the missing children, and of those still residing in the hotels.
There has been an absence of a clear plan to bring the use of hotels for child asylum seekers to an end, and these children will continue to go missing until they are removed from hotel accommodation, and placed in children’s social care.
What can we do?
There are some steps you can take to help bring about the end of the use of hotels in housing vulnerable children, and to hold the government accountable for finding these missing children.
1. Write to your MP
Writing a letter or email to your local MP can help in ensuring that this matter continues to be brought up in parliament. It is vital to keep pressing parliament to end the use of hotels in housing asylum-seeking children for good.
2. Be an advocate
The Home Office is failing in its duty to protect unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and so it is vital that we make sure their welfare is addressed. Educate your peers and members of your community on this issue, to ensure it does not get swept under the rug. The more people who know, the better. As a community we can hold the government responsible for this failure in safeguarding.
3. Campaign for Safe Routes
There is a need to reinstate the family reunion aspect of the Dublin III convention, which was lost when we left the EU. The Dublin III convention stated that children had the right to be both safety and legally reunited with their family in the UK. However, a break with EU regulation as a result of Brexit has meant this is no longer enforced, leading more unaccompanied children to take dangerous journeys to enter the UK.
You can include this campaign in any letters to MPs, and support organisations like Safe Passage who are advocating for family reunification in Europe post-Brexit.