Child refugees go missing from Home Office hotel accommodation at a rate of one per week, according to police data released in response to freedom of information requests
Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests from Kent and Sussex police as reported by the Independent shows that 16 child asylum-seekers were reported missing from hotel accommodation between 20 July and 25 November last year. Only seven of these 16 have since been located. A further four minors were reported missing across Kent and Sussex between 25 November and 2 December, one of whom remains missing. These figures do not include young people accommodated in hotels who claim to be children, but have been assessed as adults over the age of 18 by either the Home Office or the local authority.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper described these findings as ‘disturbing’, expressing concern that children could finds themselves ‘back in the hands of the traffickers’. Elaine Ortiz, founder of The Hummingbird Project, a formerly Calais-based youth charity, said that children may be going missing owing to ‘debts’ owed to smugglers. ‘We saw the level of exploitation of the children and young people in Calais by smugglers and gangs. We also heard about harassment and violence towards young people by gang members in order to pay their ‘debts’,’ she said.
Patricia Durr, CEO of trafficking charity ECPAT UK, described the situation as ‘appalling’, and an ‘inevitable’ result of the Home Office decision to place ‘vulnerable and traumatised unaccompanied children’ in hotels with ‘no clear corporate parental responsibility or care and in direct contravention of The Children Act 1989’. Section 17 of the Act provides that it is the duty of every local authority to ‘safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need’.
In July 2021, the Home Office began unlawfully placing unaccompanied child asylum seekers in unregulated hotels. Yesterday @maybulman & @Independent revealed that these children have been going missing at a rate of once a week. Read in full > https://t.co/33S6mPTvSg pic.twitter.com/33xe6sQ0Kn
— Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (@ECPATUK) January 12, 2022
The Home Office has been using unregulated hotels to accommodate child refugees since July 2021 when Kent County Council refused to accept any more, declaring that the number of asylum-seeking children within the county had reached an ‘unsafe’ level. By mid-November, Kent County Council officials confirmedthat they had 363 unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors in their care as well as 1,071 care-leavers to support.
The Independent’s findings came just days after the inquest into the death of child refugee Alexander Tekle found that the 18 year old was driven into a ‘destructive spiral’ by failings to safeguard his welfare. Alexander – or ‘Alex’ to his friends – was placed in adult hotel accommodation after Kent County Council disputed his age and refused to take him into care. The coroner concluded that Kent were ‘less willing than they might have been to battle to keep Alex within their care’, and were ‘positively encouraging and agitating’ his transfer to Home Office accommodation.