British Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick told MPs on Tuesday that hundreds of child asylum seekers have gone missing since the British government began housing minors in hotels due to pressure on the country’s asylum accommodation system, amid calls for an investigation into the matter.
Jenrick said on Tuesday that about 200 children have gone missing since July 2021. “Of the 4,600 unaccompanied children who have been accommodated in hotels since July 2021, there have been 440 missing cases and 200 children are still missing,” he said.
About 13 of the 200 missing children are under the age of 16, and one is female according to government data. The majority of the missing, 88%, are Albanians, and the remaining 12% are from Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Vietnam, Pakistan and Turkey.
Jenrick blamed the problem on an increase in migrant boat crossings across the English Channel into the UK, which left the government with “no alternative” to using “specialist hotels” to accommodate minors from July 2021.
Although the use of contracted hotels was envisioned as a temporary solution, four were still in operation as of October with more than 200 rooms designated for migrant children, according to a report by the independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.
British charities and immigrant rights groups have long complained about poor conditions in the country’s mired and underfunded asylum system.
The number of asylum applications processed in the UK has collapsed in recent years, leaving people in limbo for months and years – trapped in processing facilities or makeshift hotels and unable to work – and sparking an intractable debate over Britain’s borders.
The missing migrant children were first reported in British media on Saturday, when The Observer newspaper reported that “dozens” of asylum-seeking children had been kidnapped by “gangs” from a Home Office-run hotel in Brighton, southern England.
Since then, calls have mounted for an urgent investigation into the matter, with the opposition Labor Party, human rights organization and Refugee Council, as well as local authorities calling for urgent action.
The Home Office called the reports untrue and in a statement to CNN, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The wellbeing of the children in our care is an absolute priority.”
The spokesperson added that they had “strong safeguarding measures” in place and “when a child goes missing, local authorities work closely with agencies, including the police, to urgently determine their whereabouts.”
While the British government does not have the power to detain unaccompanied minors, who are free to leave hotels, Jenrick defended the Home Office’s safeguarding practices saying that records are kept and monitored of children leaving and returning to hotels and that support workers work a hand to escort children out. Location in social activities and excursions.
“Many missing persons are being traced and located,” Jenrick told parliament.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, of the opposition Labor Party, blamed human traffickers in her response to parliament saying: “Children are literally taken from outside the building, they disappear and are never found. They are taken off the street by traffickers.”
Cooper said “urgent and serious action” was needed to eradicate gangs to keep children and young people safe.
We know from Greater Manchester Police, that they have warned asylum hotels and children’s homes that organized criminals are being targeted. And in this case, there is a pattern that gangs know where to get kids from, mostly because they trafficked them here in the first place. There is a criminal network involved. The government has completely failed to stop them.”
UK charity Refugee Action said on Monday that it was “shameful that children who come to this country to seek safety can be harmed. The ultimate responsibility rests with the Home Secretary, and her decision to run an asylum system is not based on sympathy, but on hostility.”
A British charity, the Refugee Council, tweeted that it was “deeply concerned about the practice of placing separated children in Home Office accommodation, outside legal provisions, putting them at risk of harm with over 200 of them missing.”