Disappearing children

29 January 2023: The Observer view on Britain’s shameful failings on child refugees

Observer editorial

Abused, kidnapped and lost – the government should hang its head in shame over its lack of care towards vulnerable minors

Unaccompanied children fleeing war, torture and chaos are surely one of the most vulnerable demographics in the world. Yet an Observer investigation has exposed how once these children reach the UK they can be treated with an appalling lack of care, to the extent that large numbers are being kidnapped in plain sight by criminal gangs. Today, we publish allegations by a whistleblower that the staff in one hotel accommodating some of these already traumatised children have subjected them to repeated emotional abuse.

Peter Kyle, the Labour MP for Hove, has met some of the children being housed in a hotel in his constituency. He has described their vulnerability: one 15-year-old from Iran who had lost both of his parents travelled to the UK with a friend but was separated from him because he tested positive for Covid and was so anxious “his face was pinched and his legs were buckling”. The majority of unaccompanied children arriving in Britain come from countries with terrible records of conflict and human rights abuses: Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Many will be in immediate danger from the criminal gangs to whom they owe money for smuggling them into the country.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/jan/29/the-observer-view-on-britains-shameful-failings-on-child-refugees


Update 27 January 2023: ECPAT: Over 100 charities call for action on children going missing from Home Office hotels, at risk of trafficking and exploitation

  • Charities including NSPCC, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, ECPAT UK and the Refugee Council have written to the Prime Minister
  • Hundreds of children have gone missing from hotels and are suspected of being trafficked and exploited
  • The Home Office is unlawfully housing separated children in unsafe hotels, where they could be targeted by criminals

Over 100 charities from the refugee and children’s sectors have written to the Prime Minister today to express their grave concern about separated children seeking asylum going missing from Home Office hotels. The children are suspected of being exploited and are accommodated outside of the UK’s child welfare framework which applies to all children, regardless of their immigration status.

In the open letter coordinated by ECPAT UK and the Refugee Council, charities including major UK children’s charities NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Action for Children, Coram, The Children’s Society and National Children’s Bureau, are calling for the Home Office to stop accommodating separated children in hotels with no further delays. They are also calling for children to be cared for by local authority children’s social care, according to the law and with all the safeguards that brings, including having OFSTED oversight, and for an urgent independent inquiry:

We request the end to this practice immediately with a commitment to an end date after which these practices will not be revived and an urgent independent inquiry given these significant matters of public concern following the reported failures to protect vulnerable children from harm.

The charities have denounced the continued use of unsafe hotels by the Home Office to accommodate separated children, arguing the practice is unlawful and harmful:

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’. It is a significant departure from the Children Act 1989 and established standards.

Charities have previously issued multiple warnings to Ministers and government departments about the dangers of the Home Office accommodating children in these hotels. The latest revelations of children going missing surfaced last weekend, with over 100 children found to have been reported missing from a single Sussex hotel, with 79 who remain missing. The government confirmed that there were 440 occurrences of children having gone missing from hotels, and 200 children have never been found.

 The letter highlights the government’s continued failure to end the harmful practice:

While the use of hotels for separated children was initially characterised by the Home Office as an “emergency” measure to be operated for “the very shortest of periods”, it has continued for some 18 months. Notwithstanding the unlawfulness of the practice and the hundreds of children that have gone missing and/or been abducted, the Home Office has repeatedly failed to commit to an end date for housing children in this way – despite a recommendation from the ICIBI in October 2022 to end these practices within six months.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:

“We know from our work that children who have experienced unimaginable horror and upheaval coming to our country in search of safety are highly traumatised and vulnerable. Government has a very clear legal duty to protect them but is failing to do so with the equivalent of several classrooms of children seemingly having disappeared into the clutches of those who will exploit and abuse them. This is a child protection scandal that councils the police and ministers must urgently address to ensure every single separated child matters and is kept safe.”

 Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking), said:

“This is a national child protection failure – the shocking but inevitable consequence of the Home Office practice of directly accommodating separated children outside of the law. The Home Office has no authority, power or expertise in the care and protection of children.

“Despite evidence of the risks and numerous representations, the government has ignored the warnings and is yet to commit to an exit strategy, seeming to prefer to entrench this discriminatory approach to some of the most vulnerable children with the greatest need of protection and care.

“We need an urgent commitment to end this practice immediately and to ensure that separated children are cared for and protected as all other children within our legal and well-established child welfare framework.  Rather than setting up separate provision, the government must provide local authorities with sufficient funds to properly fulfil their legal duties to children.”

 —ENDS—

 Notes to editors:


The full letter reads:

26 January 2023
Dear Prime Minister,
Children missing, trafficked and at-risk in Home Office hotel accommodation for separated and unaccompanied children seeking asylum We are writing as charities to express our grave concern that separated children seeking asylum are going missing, suspected of being trafficked and criminally exploited, from hotels where they have continued to be accommodated by the Home Office. This is despite urgent requests to Ministers and government departments to discontinue this practice and evidence that these children face significant harm.

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’. It is a significant departure from the Children Act 1989 and established standards, including those identified in the Home Office’s Every Child Matters: Change for Children statutory guidance issued under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, which requires prompt referral of children to local authority care. Moreover, the National Transfer Scheme, implemented through section 72 of the Immigration Act 2016, has the specific aim of ensuring responsibility for looking after unaccompanied children is borne by local authorities (not the Home Office).

Despite multiple warnings from charities to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Secretary of State for Education, Directors of Children’s Services, OFSTED, and a report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, it has now emerged that many of these children have gone missing from the hotels, targeted by criminal networks and likely now face exploitation and other forms of significant harm. The latest information provided by your Minister on 24 January 2023 confirmed that 4600 children have been accommodated in these hotels since July 2021 with 440 missing episodes and 200 children who have never been found. The hotels are simply not safe.

While the use of hotels for separated children was initially characterised by the Home Office as “emergency” measure to be operated for “the very shortest of periods”, it has continued for some 18 months. Notwithstanding the unlawfulness of the practice and the hundreds of children that have gone missing and/or been abducted, the Home Office has repeatedly failed to commit to an end date for housing children in this way – despite a recommendation from the ICIBI in October 2022 to end these practices within six months.

We request the end to this practice immediately with a commitment to an end date after which these practices will not be revived and an urgent independent inquiry given these significant matters of public concern following the reported failures to protect vulnerable children from harm.
Yours sincerely,


26 January 2023: Refugee Council: ACTION: Ask your MP to speak up for unaccompanied and vulnerable children seeking asylum

Unaccompanied and vulnerable children seeking asylum are going missing from Government run hotels. TAKE ACTION: Write to your MP and ask them to put pressure on the Government to launch an urgent response.

We need to reach as many MPs as possible.

You don’t have to give us your phone number, but if you do, we will call you to keep you informed about how your support transforms the lives of refugees and asylum seekers, and how you can donate and support our work in other ways such as campaigns and events. You can opt out at any time.

CHILDREN MISSING FROM HOTELS.PNG

Unaccompanied and vulnerable children seeking asylum are going missing from Government run hotels.

The Government has said that a shocking 4,600 separated children have been put in hotels since July 2021. 440 of them have gone missing and 200 have never been found. These children are suspected of being exploited and are not being protected by the UK’s child welfare framework which applies to all children, regardless of their immigration status.

This is a crisis situation which requires an urgent response.

The Government needs to commit to end this practice for good, giving an exact date for when it will stop. There also needs to be an urgent inquiry looking into these failures to protect vulnerable children from harm.

Will you ask your MP to speak up for the protection of unaccompanied children seeking asylum?

You can send your MP our template letter, but we encourage you to personalise your message.

Template letter

Dear MP,

I am writing to express my alarm that unaccompanied and vulnerable children seeking asylum are going missing from hotels where they have been accommodated by the Home Office. I ask you to call on the Government to end the practice of putting separated children in hotels immediately and to launch an urgent independent inquiry into this issue.

There is no legal basis for placing children in Home Office hotel accommodation. 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’. It is a significant departure from the Children Act 1989 and established standards.

Despite multiple warnings from charities to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Secretary of State for Education, Directors of Children’s Services, OFSTED, and a report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, it has now emerged that many of these children have gone missing from the hotels. They are targeted by criminal networks and likely now face exploitation and other forms of significant harm.

The latest information provided by the Government confirmed that 4,600 children have been accommodated in these hotels since July 2021 with 440 missing episodes and 200 children who have never been found. The hotels are simply not safe.

As my representative in Parliament, I urge you to speak out against the Home Office accommodating separated children seeking asylum in hotels. There are two ways in which you can do this:

1. Call for an immediate end to this practice, with a commitment from Government to an end date after which these practices will not be revived.  

2. Call for an urgent independent inquiry, as this is a significant matter of public concern following the reported failures to protect vulnerable children from harm.

Regardless of nationality or immigration status, all children deserve protection and safety. What does it say about us as a nation if we cannot make sure children are properly looked after? 

I urge you to take this important opportunity in standing for the protection of children. I look forwarding to hearing your response regarding this matter.


25 January 2023: Guardian: Home Office accused of ‘dereliction of duty’ over missing child asylum seekers

Unclear who has legal responsibility for children placed in hotels, after dozens abducted from street in Brighton

Ministers have been accused of a “dereliction of duty” over their failure to find 76 child asylum seekers who have gone missing from a Brighton hotel managed by the Home Office.

The accusation came during a parliamentary debate on Tuesday after an Observer investigation that cited child protection sources and a whistleblower working for a Home Office contractor, who described how youngsters had been abducted off the street outside the Brighton hotel and bundled into cars.

Caroline Lucas, the local Green MP, tabled an urgent question asking what steps the government had taken to trace the missing children.

The immigration minister Robert Jenrick said more than 4,600 asylum-seeking children had been accommodated in six hotels since July 2021, and 440 of them had gone missing. Some were later found but 200 remained missing and 13 of them were under 16.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/jan/24/home-office-accused-of-dereliction-of-duty-over-missing-asylum-seeking-children


Hansard: (Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on what steps she is taking to find missing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and to keep them safe

You can read the debate here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2023-01-24/debates/290AF292-5D7E-411C-8FB8-A6E0F288365C/UnaccompaniedAsylum-SeekingChildren


See also: 19 October 2022: ICIBI – An inspection of the use of hotels for housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) March – May 2022

and:

Independent: Home Office admits it is illegally housing unaccompanied child asylum seekers in hotels

‘We are running [unregulated] children’s homes and committing a criminal offence,’ internal documents say

The Home Office has admitted that housing unaccompanied child asylum seekers in hotels is illegal but has no concrete plans to end the practice, a watchdog has revealed.

Official documents show that the government identified over a year ago that the policy amounted to the creation of unregulated children’s homes, which ministers banned in February 2021.

Read more: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/home-office-child-asylum-seekers-hotels-b2206058.html


22 October 2022: Guardian: Asylum seekers: Home Office accused of ‘catastrophic child protection failure’

Exclusive: over 220 unaccompanied children revealed as missing from hotels funded by the department

More than 220 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are missing from hotels funded by the Home Office, prompting claims that the chaos-stricken government department is presiding over a “catastrophic child protection failure”.

Ministers have admitted that the Home Office has no idea of the whereabouts of 222 vulnerable children it was meant to be protecting.

One child, it reveals, disappeared on the same day that they arrived at Home Office hotel accommodation and has since been missing for almost a year.

The immigration minister, Tom Pursglove, gave details of 142 of the missing youngsters, of whom 39 had been missing for at least 100 days.

Seventeen went missing within a day of the Home Office placing them in a hotel.

Nine were 15 years old when they disappeared and 32 were aged 16, according to the data, which includes numbers missing until last Wednesday.

The number of missing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, revealed in a parliamentary answer late on Friday, raises fresh concern over the Home Office’s decision to start housing children in hotels along the south-east coast, keeping them out of the care of local authorities.

The department began contracts with hotel owners in July 2021 to house children arriving in the UK across the Channel on small boats without parents or carers.

There was further chaos for the Home Office on Saturday when its most senior asylum chief was revealed to have resigned as “chaos and confusion” grows over the rapid turnaround of home secretaries, failures to tackle Channel crossings and the widely derided Rwanda deal.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/oct/22/uk-asylum-seekers-home-office-accused-of-catastrophic-child-protection-failure


13 October 2022: BBC Newsnight: Channel migrants: 116 children missing from UK hotels

More than 100 unaccompanied child migrants remain missing after disappearing from UK hotels over a 14-month period, data reveals.

BBC News has discovered that 116 children disappeared between July 2021 and August 2022, after temporarily being put in hotels by the Home Office.

Charities fear the children, some as young as 11, risk being exploited.

The Home Office said it had “no alternative” but to use hotels while long-term accommodation was found.

The government has been placing children who arrive in the UK in approved hotels since July last year, after local councils said there was not enough capacity to house them in suitable accommodation.

Some 1,606 children who arrived alone between July 2021 and June 2022 were placed in hotel accommodation by the Home Office, according to its own figures.

BBC Two’s Newsnight discovered that 181 children – aged 18 or less – subsequently went missing in the 14-month period covered by the data, which was released by the Home Office following Freedom of Information requests. But 65 were later found.

The charity ECPAT UK said the number of missing children was “shocking” and called on the government to stop placing them in hotels.

“They could be working away in a cannabis farm, in a factory, domestic servitude. There’s a whole range of exploitative situations that these young people could be in,” said its chief executive, Patricia Durr. “They could be being criminally exploited or sexually exploited behind closed doors.”

Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-63231470