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45 unaccompanied asylum seeking children went missing from unlawful accommodation

The Home Office placed unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in unlawful accommodation which resulted in 45 children going missing over a 10-month period, a charity has claimed.

Parliamentary Question responses show the Home Office has housed 1,606 children in hotels between July 2021 and June 2022, even though this is unlawful and despite unaccompanied asylum-seeking children being at great risk of serious harm, abuse, exploitation, trafficking and re-trafficking.

ECPAT UK carried out a Freedom of Information request which found that between June 2021 and March 2022, unaccompanied children went missing from the hotels at an average rate of one every week, with more than ten going missing in just one of those months.

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “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. 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.”

Immigration Minister Kevin Foster responded to Parliamentary Questions and revealed that the Home Office has housed 1,606 children in hotels between July 2021 and June 2022. However, ECPAT warns that the ongoing policy of placing children outside child protection and welfare frameworks in Home Office-acquired hotel accommodation is unlawful.

These are children without parental care and should be looked after by local authorities according to the law. It is in contravention of the Home Office’s own obligations under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, and denies children their rights to protection and care under the Children Act 1989.

It also breaches changes to the law in England made in September 2021 which banned the placement of those aged 15 and younger in unregulated settings. Unaccompanied children turning 16 and 17 who are looked after are not afforded this protection from being placed in unregulated accommodation without care.

ECPAT UK has received reports of Albanian boys as young as 11-12 going missing, including a report of a child ‘jumping out of windows’.

However, the figures have emerged as the full raft of measures in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 are coming into force, reducing protections and increasing the likelihood of trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing, ECPAT has warned.

ECPAT UK has established through its research that child victims of trafficking are at significantly high risk of going missing. The most recent findings from a joint ECPAT UK and Missing People report found that 13% of unaccompanied children went missing from care in 2020 (692 of 5,263).

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “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,” she concluded.

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