More than 100 charities have written to Rishi Sunak demanding a halt to keeping young asylum seekers in hotels as a result of 200 children recently going missing. 440 of the 4,600 unaccompanied child asylum seekers who arrived in the UK since 2021 had disappeared, with only half returning.
The charities warned the prime minister that children were at risk of exploitation. Enver Soloman, chief executive of the Refugee Council, labelled the situation a ‘child protection scandal.’
The organisations have called for an independent inquiry regarding the ongoing situation. The government states that it is working alongside the police and local authorities with the aim of locating the missing children, as their wellbeing ‘is an absolute priority.’
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick clarified that he believes he has not seen evidence that the missing children have been abducted, but regardless he said he was ‘not going to let the matter drop.’ Police sources say that those who are missing may have been trafficked from these hotels by criminal gangs.
Many have condemned the government’s ‘failures to protect vulnerable children from harm.’ An open letter, co-ordinated by children’s rights organisation ECPAT UK and the Refugee Council, has acquired more than 100 signatures from refugee and children’s charities. Signatures include those by popular charitable organisations such as NSPCC and Barnado’s.
The letter reads: “There is no legal basis for placing children in Home Office hotel accommodation, and almost two years into the operation of the scheme – which is both unlawful and harmful – it is no longer possible to justify the use of hotels as being ‘temporary’.”
The charities also criticise the Home Office for ‘repeatedly fail[ing]’ to set an end date for the scheme. Jenrick stated that a shortage for alternative accommodation meant that he could not set a date.
Asylum seekers continue to be accommodated in hotels while the Home Office determines whether they can remain. As this is a lengthy process with rising numbers of arrivals, this has caused an increase in the numbers kept in hotels.