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Home Office says no complaints have been received amid reports of young people going missing

MPs and children’s charities are pressing the government for action following recent disclosures that more than 200 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are missing.

02/02/23

Home Office says no complaints have been received amid reports of young people going missing

Last week The Observer newspaper published allegations from a whistleblower that children in Hove, East Sussex, were being taken by criminal gangs. All the missing children were asylum-seekers, housed in an hotel in the town run by the Home Office. The Observer investigation said that months before, the Home Office had been warned by child protection services and local police that the hotel was being targeted by criminal networks, who take the children away to work in County Lines drugs gangs.

Subsequently Robert Jenrick, the Home Office minister responsible, told MPs that he had no evidence that children were being abducted but added: ‘I am not going to let this matter drop.’

However in a statement published yesterday (Tuesday 31st January) a Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We have not received any complaints in relation to these claims.

‘The wellbeing of children in our care is an absolute priority. Robust safeguards are in place to ensure they are safe and supported as we seek urgent placements with a local authority.

‘When issues do arise, we take complaints extremely seriously and they are acted upon quickly.

‘In October, the independent immigration watchdog found young people in hotel accommodation unanimously reported feeling safe, happy and treated with respect.’

The statement follows a letter from 100 children’s organisations to the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, sent in response to the recent revelations. The letter was coordinated by ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking) and the Refugee Council and calls on Mr Sunak and the Home Office to end the practice of using hotels to house unaccompanied children.

The letter says, ‘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… 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 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 [independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration] in October 2022 to end these practices within six months.’

Read The Observer story: https://bit.ly/3kV7Tde

Read the full letter to Rishi Sunak: https://bit.ly/3Jw3WWQ

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