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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Adam Robertson

Charities write to Prime Minister urging action over 'missing' child asylum seekers

OVER 100 charities have written to the Prime Minister to express their concern about asylum-seeking children going “missing” from Home Office hotels.

A letter co-ordinated by a range of organisations including Refugee Council, NSPCC, Barnardo’s and Action for Children are calling for the UK Government to stop accommodating separated children in hotels with no further delays.

The UK Government has already faced claims of doing “nothing” to find 76-asylum seeking children “missing” from accommodation in Brighton.

In the letter, the charities have denounced the continued use of unsafe hotels by the Home Office to accommodate separated children, arguing that the practice is unlawful and harmful.

It reads: “There is no legal basis for placing children in Home Office hotel accommodation and almost two years into the operation of the scheme, which is both unlawful and harmful, it is no longer possible to justify the use of hotels as being ‘temporary’.

“It is a significant departure from the Children Act 1989 and established standards.”

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Home Office minister Robert Jenrick defended the security presence at the hotel run by his department but added that he has asked those running it and council officials to respond to the “very serious allegations” of children being abducted outside it.

Jenrick said he has “not been presented with evidence that has happened” but that he would continue to investigate the matter.

Charities have previously issued multiple warnings to ministers and government departments about the dangers of housing children in hotels.

The UK Government has confirmed that there were 440 occurrences of children having gone missing from hotels, and that 200 children have never been found, 13 of whom are under 16 years of age and only one of whom is female.

The National: Robert Jenrick faced questions over the 'missing' children in the Commons on Tuesday Robert Jenrick faced questions over the 'missing' children in the Commons on Tuesday

CEO of the Refugee Council Enver Solomon said: “We know from our work that children who have experienced unimaginable horror and upheaval coming to our country in search of safety are highly traumatised and vulnerable.

“Government has a very clear and legal duty to protect them but is failing to do so with the equivalent of several classrooms of children seemingly having disappeared into the clutches of those who will exploit and abuse them.

“This is a child protection scandal that councils the police and ministers must urgently address to ensure every single separated child matters and is kept safe.”

Of the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children still missing, 88% are Albanian nationals, with the remaining 12% from Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Vietnam, Pakistan and Turkey.

The Home Office has said that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are not detained and are free to leave the accommodation.

It also said that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are supported by team leaders and support workers who are on site 24 hours a day.

Meanwhile, Labour MSP Paul Sweeney asked Nicola Sturgeon about the safety of asylum-seeking children and if any similar instances had occurred in Scotland.

The First Minister said: “I will write to the member with any update I can give him in terms of action being taken by councils here in Scotland.”

She added: “In relation to the general issue, I think everybody must have been deeply shocked to hear this week the revelation that 200 children have gone missing when they should have been effectively in the care of the Home Office.

“What perhaps is even more shocking than that is how little attention there seems to be paid to this.

“If a child here in this country goes missing, there is rightly lots of attention, that should be no different in the case of these unaccompanied children here.

“Children while they are here, they are our responsibility and we should care for them, we should love them and we should make sure that they are looked after.”

Sturgeon also called on everybody in the chamber to call for greater “humanity” in the UK Government’s approach to immigration.

In response to the letter, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The wellbeing of children and minors in our care is an absolute priority.

“Robust safeguarding procedures are in place to ensure all children and minors are safe and supported as we seek urgent placements with a local authority.

“Any child or minor going missing is extremely serious, and we work around the clock with the police and local authorities to urgently locate them and ensure they are safe.

“We are determined to stop the use of hotels for all minors. To achieve this goal, we are providing local authorities with £15,000 for every unaccompanied child they take into their care.”

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