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One unaccompanied child per week going missing from ‘unlawful’ hotel accommodation

New Freedom of Information (FoI) requests shows the extent of unaccompanied children going missing from hotels in which they were unlawfully housed by the Home Office.

04/07/22

One unaccompanied child per week going missing from ‘unlawful’ hotel accommodation

New data shows that 45 unaccompanied children in the UK went missing between June 2021 and March 2022 after the Home Secretary placed them in Home Office-led hotel accommodation.

Immigration Minister Kevin Foster’s responses to Parliamentary Questions reveal the Home Office has housed 1,606 children in hotels between July 2021 and June 2022, but the ongoing policy of placing children outside child protection and welfare frameworks in Home Office-acquired hotel accommodation is ‘unlawful’.

The law currently states that children without parental care should be looked after by local authorities. ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking UK), which made the FoI requests says there is currently no legal instrument that permits the Home Secretary to effectively act in loco parentis in this way.

The charity says that the practice of placing these children in hotels is in contravention of the Home Office’s own obligations under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, denies children their rights to protection and care under the Children Act 1989, and breaches changes to the law in England made in September 2021 which banned the placement of those aged 15 and younger in unregulated settings.

Research shows that child victims of trafficking are at high risk of going missing, with recent reports finding that 13% (692 of 5,263) of unaccompanied children went missing from care in 2020.

‘Missing episodes’ are particularly concerning as they can often be an indication that unaccompanied children and young people have been re-trafficked. This is in addition to the significant risk they face of serious harm, including abuse and exploitation. In research for ECPAT UK, victims and survivors of child trafficking identified the care and support they receive in their ‘home’ as the number one priority for preventing missing episodes.

Campaigners also say that the controversial Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which came into force fully in June, also reduces identification and protection for child victims of trafficking, despite rising concerns about the risk of child exploitation and trafficking due to the 4.3 million children which have been displaced by the war in Ukraine. The charity has received reports of Albanian boys as young as 11-12 going missing, including a report of a child ‘jumping out of windows.’

“To say that it is appalling that vulnerable and traumatised unaccompanied children are being unlawfully placed by the Home Secretary in hotels is an understatement,” Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said. “These children have arrived without parental care in England where we have a very well-established – albeit under-funded – child protection and welfare framework to assess their needs look after them.”

“ECPAT UK, along with many others, have raised the alarm about this since the outset. As it stands the Home Secretary is effectively acting in loco parentis and is ultimately responsible for these children and what happens to them. There is no local authority with corporate parent responsibility for them as is the case for all other children who are without parental care and need to be looked after. This is a very dangerous precedent which leaves some of the most traumatised and in-need children at risk and outside of our child welfare and protection system. It is in direct contravention of the Children Act 1989.

“Children’s rights to protection and care are being undermined. The Nationality and Borders Act has passed into law without any special protections for children in the modern slavery and trafficking part of the legislation, and introduces measures which will reduce identification, deny protection and penalise child victims for their own exploitation. In short, it is hard not to conclude that the current hostile agenda is taking priority over children’s rights and welfare, creating dangerous and unlawful precedents.”

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