Children’s rights organisation ECPAT UK takes legal action against the placement of unaccompanied children in asylum hotels. This legal scrutiny follows the alarming number of children who went missing from these hotels, with hundreds falling victim to abduction by criminal gangs.
Earlier this year, the Observer uncovered the distressing reality of dozens of asylum-seeking children being abducted from a single Home Office hotel in Brighton. Over 400 unaccompanied children have disappeared from Home Office-run hotels, with 154 still missing. Efforts by law enforcement agencies to locate the children have been largely unsuccessful.
ECPAT UK argues that the Home Office lacks authority to place unaccompanied children in its asylum hotels. Despite the criticisms, the Home Office persists in holding children found crossing the channel. Government officials “doubled down” on working to give the Home Office the authority to continue these practices, even though they have yet to provide a concrete solution to provide an exit strategy for housing the children in a safe way.
ECPAT UK Chief Executive Patricia Durr addresses the human rights violations these children face, referring to the issue as a “national child protection scandal” that has resulted in harm, kidnappings, and exploitation.
The crisis was legally addressed when a family court ruled that unaccompanied children cannot be under the Home Office’s care. The court decided that these asylum-seeking children must be referred to as “children in need.” In addition, the ruling emphasised that these children must receive the full protections outlined in the Children Act 1989. Under the legislation, local authorities face the responsibility of identifying and meeting the children’s needs.
The Home Office’s role in housing vulnerable children has been called into question since 2021 when the Kent County council declared it could no longer handle the influx of unaccompanied children.
ECPAT UK, in collaboration with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer law firm, launched legal action against the Home Office, asserting that the accommodation of unaccompanied children in hotels remains unlawful. The charity also challenges the Kent County Council’s failure to fulfill its duties towards children in need. The court victory achieved by another charity, Article 39, further emphasized the need for urgent protection for this vulnerable group of children through a wardship application in the family court.
Article 39’s director Carolyne Willow raises concerns regarding the Home Office’s approach to child protection, arguing that the number of missing children, some potentially trafficked, highlights the urgency for immediate action. She tells the Guardian that the issue is a “wholly unacceptable situation where extremely vulnerable children have been treated as being in legal limbo” and exposed to severe harm and exploitation.