Home Office accused of ‘dereliction of duty’ over missing child asylum seekers

Ministers have been accused of a “dereliction of duty” over their failure to find 76 child asylum seekers who have gone missing from a Brighton hotel managed by the Home Office.

The accusation came during a parliamentary debate on Tuesday after an Observer investigation that cited child protection sources and a whistleblower working for a Home Office contractor, who described how youngsters had been abducted off the street outside the Brighton hotel and bundled into cars.

Caroline Lucas, the local Green MP, tabled an urgent question asking what steps the government had taken to trace the missing children.

The immigration minister Robert Jenrick said more than 4,600 asylum-seeking children had been accommodated in six hotels since July 2021, and 440 of them had gone missing. Some were later found but 200 remained missing and 13 of them were under 16.

While local authorities are the “corporate parent” for children in care, including child asylum seekers placed in foster care, it is unclear who has legal responsibility for the thousands of children the Home Office has placed in hotels.

Although the Home Office runs these hotels and has placed nurses, social workers and security guards there, there is no legal clarity on who are the “corporate parents” for these children if they go missing or if anything happens to them.

The Conservative MP Tim Loughton described it as a “grey area” between Home Office and local authority responsibility.

During the debate, Jenrick declined to say when the Home Office would stop using hotels for children seeking asylum.

When asked why the Home Office would not take on a corporate parent responsibility for children in hotels, Jenrick stated that this proposal was under consideration and that a decision would be made “in due course”.

MPs from Brighton and Hove voiced concerns about vulnerable children being “dumped by the Home Office” in hotels in the area. The immigration minister defended the security presence at the Brighton hotel run by his department, but said he had asked those running it and council officials to respond to the “very serious allegations” of children being abducted outside it.

The Labour MP Peter Kyle said that, in his Hove constituency, a hotel was given only a couple of hours’ notice that unaccompanied children were going to be placed there. He said he saw that some of the children were “extremely vulnerable”, both emotionally and to being “coerced into crime” if they left the premises.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “Will the Home Office now agree to immediately end the contract with this hotel and move the children out to safer accommodation? Will they set up a proper inquiry and team to pursue the link between organised crime trafficking and the children in these hotels?

“Because this is a total dereliction of duty that is putting children at risk, we need an urgent and serious action to crack down on these gangs and to keep children and young people safe.”

The Refugee Council’s chief executive, Enver Solomon, said: “These children are being left in legal limbo with government failing in its statutory duty to ensure they are given a corporate parent, like any other child in the care system. It means they are left at greater risk of being neglected or overlooked.”

The Home Office declined to comment.


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