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Child refugees under Home Office care go missing at rate of one a week

Campaigners are calling for an end to the government's use of unregulated hotels to house lone children.

LONE child refugees as young as 11 have disappeared from Home Office-approved hotels, a charity has revealed, prompting fresh calls for ministers to end the “unlawful” policy of housing minors in hotels. 

Official figures show 45 unaccompanied children have gone missing from hotel accommodation in the past 10 months — a rate of one every week. 

The disturbing figures have sparked fresh anger at the government’s continued use of unregulated hotels to house lone children rather than placing them in secure children’s accommodation, with rights groups today demanding ministers end the policy.

Campaigners argue that the practice is unlawful and puts children at “significant risk” of harm, including from exploitation.

The Home Office began placing lone children in guest houses and hotels with little adult supervision in the summer of 2020 after Kent County Council refused to take more in amid a growing number of refugee arrivals. 

This has caused widespread concern including from watchdog Ofsted which described the practice as “completely unacceptable.” 

However the policy has continued, with 1,606 children placed in hotels between July last year and June 2022, including children under 10, Immigration Minister Kevin Foster has admitted. 

Among the children who’ve gone missing are Albanian boys aged just 11 and 12, according to reports received by charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking UK (Ecpat UK).

The charity, which obtained the missing figures through a freedom of information request, said it had also received reports of one child “jumping out of a window.” 

In another case, a 16-year-old Vietnamese child disappeared after being placed by the Home Office in a hotel in Hove. 

Ecpat UK fears he is now being forced to work in a cannabis farm by the traffickers who transported him to Britain. 

“No safeguarding measures were taken to protect [him] from going missing and being re-trafficked,” the charity said. 

Ecpat UK has described the growing number of missing children as a “child protection emergency.” It says the policy is illegal and children should be placed in the care of local authorities which have a legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.  

“As it stands the Home Secretary is effectively acting in loco parentis and is ultimately responsible for these children and what happens to them,” Ecpat UK CEO Patricia Durr explained. 

“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 England CEO Kathy Evans said: “The very idea of settling on this practice as the norm is totally unacceptable and inhumane. 

“Each child arriving here in distress, without anyone to care for them, needs proper care, just as the Children Act already requires.”

Refugee Council CEO Enver Solomon said: “It is simply not acceptable that children seeking asylum are still being accommodated in hotels. 

“Hotels are by no means appropriate for children who have fled war, persecution and violence and are often very traumatised. 

“Every effort must be made by government to ensure all children are taken into the care of local authorities as a matter of urgency.”

A government spokesman said: “Any child going missing is extremely serious, which is why we work closely with local authorities and the police to operate robust missing persons protocols to ensure their whereabouts are known and that they are safe.

“We work to make sure vulnerable children are provided with appropriate placements for their needs. In 2022 we changed the National Transfer Scheme so all local authorities with children’s services must support young people.”

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