The continued plight of missing asylum seeking children in the U.K.

The continued plight of missing asylum seeking children in the U.K.

  • Published on
    June 5, 2024
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  • Category:
    Human Trafficking
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On Wednesday, June 5th, 2024, BBC reported that a High Court decision was made on a case brought against the Home Office in 2023 by Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK) that highlighted the unlawful practice of housing unaccompanied child asylum seekers in hotels. The court decided that the “routine” housing of unaccompanied child asylum seekers in the hotels was unlawful.

Before this ruling, a whistleblower at a Home Office-run hotel shed light on the significant harm faced by these children. Instances include reports of children being trafficked and gone missing, never to be found again. Additional reports revealed cases of abuse and maltreatment inflicted upon the vulnerable children by hotel staff. With this turning point ruling, the issue of children who have gone and are continuing to go missing persists, and with no measures in place to care for their well-being, things only stand to get worse.

Children missing and vulnerable to exploitation

Children seeking asylum, whether separated from their families or unaccompanied, have undergone traumatic experiences, including fleeing conflict, persecution, and human rights abuses leading to perilous journeys. The systematic use of hotels to accommodate unaccompanied children began in June 2021. This practice continued until January 2024, with over 5,400 children housed in seven hotels across the U.K.

Concerns were raised about the risks of children going missing and being trafficked ECPAT U.K. chief executive Patricia Durr said,

“Many children had gone missing, were trafficked and abused and denied rights and entitlements that would have otherwise safeguarded them. It remains a national shame that many of the children that went missing have never been found and we will continue to call for a national inquiry to find out what happened and why.”

According to a report by The Observer, A whistleblower who works for the Home Office and Child Protection described children being abducted off the street outside the hotel and bundled into cars. It has also emerged that the Home Office was warned repeatedly by police that the vulnerable occupants of the hotel – asylum-seeking children who had recently arrived in the U.K. without parents or carers – would be targeted by criminal networks.

Reports also exposed safeguarding failures and lack of support for children in hotels, including disturbing instances like children being asked to play games to predict who would go missing next. Children as young as 12 and 13 were reported to have gone missing, with only 17% of missing children referred to the National Referral Mechanism as potential victims of modern slavery.

No excuse

Following the legal challenges and the discontinuation of using hotels to accommodate unaccompanied children, there are still over one hundred missing children and young people who have never been found. According to a report by ECPAT, local police reported forty-eight missing children in one month alone in a particular hotel area. Some of the children who were found have been exploited and arrested for various offenses they would have been coerced or forced to commit, often far from the hotels where they disappeared. The Government’s failure to act on repeated warnings of the risks related to the negligence of care and support of unaccompanied children is appalling.

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