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New inquiry to assess scale and nature of human trafficking in the UK

The Home Affairs Committee has announced a new inquiry into child exploitation, following previous reports of dozens of children being taken by gangs outside hotels.

13/02/23

New inquiry to assess scale and nature of human trafficking in the UK

A new parliamentary inquiry into human trafficking must look into child exploitation in the UK, an expert children’s rights charity, part of an international campaigning network has said.

The Home Affairs Committee said that the inquiry, announced last week, will assess the scale and the nature of human trafficking in the UK. It will also look at improvements in Government policy, in legislation and the criminal justice system to prevent human trafficking, prosecute perpetrators and protect victims.

Commenting on the announcement, Patricia Durr, Chief Executive of ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking), said ‘We are keen that this inquiry focusses on child exploitation and takes that into account.’

She said that the recent disappearance of over 200 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from a Home Office-run hotel in Brighton was just one example of concern. Whistleblowers told The Observer that staff were racially abusive to children at the hotel; that the children were threatened with violence, punished by being detained there and told that their asylum claims would be harmed if they misbehaved.

A previous investigation by the newspaper showed that dozens of the children had been taken by gangs from outside the hotel.

‘Unaccompanied children seeking asylum are more at risk of going missing than the general population,’ Ms Durr said. Some would have been picked up by the criminal gangs that trafficked them into the UK. Others may have left of their own accord. ‘The hotels are clearly not safe for the children; and without a feeling of safety, security and being cared for they are easy targets for criminals. Going missing like this is a key indicator that children are being exploited.’

ECPAT UK and the Refugee Council had coordinated a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, signed by 100 children’s charities, calling for an end to the Home Office practice of housing separated children in hotels. Ms Durr said that there had been no response so far from the Prime Minister.

‘There seems to be an acceptance that it should not be happening but then it has developed as custom and practice. So we have grave concerns that no-one has overall parenting responsibility for those children. The Home Office has no authority, power or expertise to care for children and is effectively subverting the power and duties of local authorities who do.’

Stewart MacLachlan, Legal and Policy Manager at of the Coram Children’s Legal Centre – Coram was among the signatories to the letter – commented: ‘Over the past few years Coram Children's Legal Centre has seen a significant weakening of child safeguarding and protection for children seeking asylum in the UK. Children are not receiving the support they need from local authorities and the Home Office have developed an entirely inappropriate system where children are placed in hotels without proper care, advice or support.

‘It has never been clarified who is the 'corporate parent' for the child during this period, which is particularly galling given the number of children who have gone missing from the hotels. With delays also prevalent throughout the asylum process, children who require safety are stuck in limbo, with lengthy waits for appropriate support and decisions in their asylum claim.

‘The Home Office need to immediately end the use of hotels, ensuring children are appropriately looked after and accommodated by local authorities, and ensure that safeguarding procedures are followed for all children who have gone missing. They also need to look at the wider system, and ensure that there is better funding, housing and carers for children seeking asylum.

The Home Office was asked for an update on the missing children, but no response has been received.

The parliamentary inquiry is currently gathering evidence, and will do so until 17th March 2023.

For the terms of reference and to submit evidence:
https://committees.parliament.uk/call-for-evidence/3048/

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