Asylum seekers: Interior Ministry accused of “catastrophic failure in child protection” | Immigration and asylum

More than 220 unaccompanied child asylum seekers are missing from Home Office-funded hotels, prompting claims that the chaotic government department is presiding over a “catastrophic failure to protect the ‘childhood”.

Ministers admitted the Home Office had no idea where 222 vulnerable children it was supposed to protect were.

A child, he reveals, disappeared the same day he arrived at the Home Office hotel and has been missing for almost a year.

Immigration Minister Tom Pursglove gave details of 142 of the missing youths, 39 of whom had been missing for at least 100 days.

Seventeen disappeared less than a day after the Home Office placed them in a hotel.

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

The number of missing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, revealed in a parliamentary response on Friday evening, raises fresh concerns over the Home Office’s decision to start housing children in hotels along the southern coast -is, keeping them out of the custody of local authorities.

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

There was further chaos for the Home Office on Saturday when its top asylum official was revealed to have resigned as ‘chaos and confusion’ grows over the rapid turnaround of home secretaries, at failed Channel crossings and the widely derided deal with Rwanda.

Emma Haddad’s decision to quit came a day after the charter airline contracted to return asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda withdrew from the scheme due to negative publicity.

Carolyne Willow, director of Article 39, which campaigns for the rights of children in public institutions, said the number of missing vulnerable children required a dramatic response.

“This is a catastrophic failure in child protection. The risks to children have always been substantial, obvious and serious, but the Home Office, with the concurrence of the Department of Education, has deliberately kept children out of the childcare system of local authorities and failed in its duty of care.

“Had they been cared for instead of in Home Office contracted hotels, every missing and still missing child would have been entitled to a host of protections, including access to independent lawyers, health assessments, arrangements to find them a school or college place, visiting social workers and independent monitors to ensure that local authorities fulfill their obligations.

A damning report revealed last week that unaccompanied child asylum seekers were living in hotels alongside adults whose backgrounds had not been checked.

An independent inspection has harshly criticized the Home Office after it was found that staff at two hotels had not been vetted by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), as required by rules governmental.

Willow also pointed to the Children Act 1989, which places responsibility for the care and protection of children without parents or guardians on local authorities, which she said contained no provision for termination of the arrangement where a child is born outside the UK.

“The children should have been found in loving homes with foster families or given the opportunity to recover from their traumatic experiences in children’s homes registered and inspected by Ofsted. Instead, they have been grouped together on the basis that they were not born in this country and hidden away in hotels, while the government’s own statutory guidelines confirm that similar bed and breakfasts are not suitable for vulnerable children, even in an emergency,” she said.

Patricia Durr, chief executive of ECPAT UK, said: “We remain very concerned that what was intended to be an emergency solution has now been held in place for over 14 months with no end in sight.”

Durr added: ‘The Home Secretary must take immediate action to end this illegal accommodation of unaccompanied children.’

Responding to a written question from Labor MP Helen Hayes on the details of missing unaccompanied minors, Pursglove said: ‘We have safeguard procedures in place to ensure that all unaccompanied asylum seeking children in interim hotels emergency are as safe and supported as possible, while we seek urgent placements with a local authority.

“The young people are accompanied by team leaders and guides who are on site 24 hours a day. Any missing child is extremely serious, and we are working with the police and local authorities to urgently locate them and ensure their safety.

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We are seeing an unprecedented increase in dangerous Channel crossings. This puts extreme pressure on our asylum system and means that we have had no alternative but to temporarily use hotels to give children a roof over their heads while they wait to find accommodation in long term.

“On average, unaccompanied child asylum seekers are transferred to long-term care facilities within 15 days of arriving at a hotel, but we know there is still a lot to do. This is why we are working closely with local authorities to increase the number of places available.

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