200 unaccompanied children missing from Home Office hotels
The government has been accused of a “dereliction of duty” after confirming that around 200 children seeking asylum are missing from Home Office hotels.
Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, confirmed to the Commons on Tuesday that more than 4,600 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been housed in hotels since July 2021, but 440 have gone missing during that time, with only half returning.
Most of the missing children are of Albanian descent, sparking concern about the involvement of organised criminal groups in their disappearance.
The Observer reported over the weekend that gangs kidnapped children from a hotel in Brighton and bundled them into cars.
“One in four unaccompanied children in a Home Office hotel have gone missing. One in four!” said Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper in the Commons.
“This is a total dereliction of duty that is putting children at risk. We need urgent and serious action to crackdown on these gangs and to keep children and young people safe."
MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas said: “This is horrific. Vulnerable children are being dumped by the Home Office. Scores of them are going missing.”
She questioned the fate of the missing children, asking if they had been "kidnapped, trafficked, put into forced labour" and whether the Home Office was taking legal and practical steps to locate them.
“It was entirely foreseeable that children were at risk of being snatched, abducted and coerced by criminals,” she added.
An investigation by The Observer, citing sources in child protection and a whistleblower working for a Home Office contractor, revealed that children had been taken from the streets outside a Brighton hotel and forced into cars.
It claimed that over the past 18 months, around 600 unaccompanied children have stayed at the hotel, with 136 reported missing. Out of those, 79 are still unaccounted for.
Hove MP Peter Kyle told the Commons that police in his constituency chased a vehicle that had taken two children from outside the Home Office-approved accommodation.
He added: “The uncomfortable truth for us is if one child who was related to one of us in this room went missing, the world would stop.
“But in the community I represent a child has gone missing, then five went missing, then a dozen went missing, then 50 went missing and currently today 76 are missing and nothing is happening.”
Jenrick insisted that cases of asylum-seeking children who disappear from Home Office housing are handled like any other missing youth.
"When any child goes missing, a multi-agency missing persons protocol is mobilised alongside the police and relevant local authority to establish their whereabouts and to ensure that they are safe,” he said.
British charities and organisations advocating for migrant rights have repeatedly highlighted the poor conditions in the UK's asylum system, which they claim is underfunded and overwhelmed.
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