A British minister has said that 200 asylum-seeking children have gone missing after being placed in hotels run by the Home Office.
The admission follows an investigation by The Observer on Saturday in which a whistle-blower from a Home Office hotel said that children were being abducted off the street and forced into cars.
On Monday, Home Office minister Simon Murray told the House of Lords that the missing children include one girl and at least 13 children under 16.
“The Home Office have no power to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in these hotels and we do know that some of them go missing. Many of them that go missing are subsequently traced,” Murray said.
He added that the overwhelming majority of the missing children – 176 of 200 – were of Albanian origin.
Police previously sounded the alarm to the Home Office that criminal networks were likely to target children who had arrived in the country alone.
According to the Sussex police force, the Home Office began housing asylum seekers in hotels in Brighton and Hove in July 2021.
During that time, 137 children were reported missing. Sixty have been found and 76 are under investigation.
Minister utterly fails to answer Qs on missing children. Will Home Office take *legal* as well as practical responsibility? Why isn't Ofsted inspecting hotels? Have all staff been DBS-checked? When will hotels close? How many more will go missing before we see action? My Urgent Q pic.twitter.com/LsHCVjXQlq
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) January 24, 2023
The Home Office and local councils have traded blame, each saying the other bears ultimate responsibility for protecting the children.
The Labour Party called for an urgent inquiry as Green Party MP Caroline Lucas blasted the ruling Conservatives in Parliament on Monday.
“This is horrific,” she said. “Vulnerable children are being dumped by the Home Office.”
Rights groups condemned the government, while the Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT), a fostering charity, said the Home Office had ignored its calls to place the children in care homes.
This is true & @ukhomeoffice knew this as we told them repeatedly. They had neither the interest nor competence to place the children in available foster &residential homes. Putting these children at significant risk by placing them in inadequately staffed hotels was deliberate https://t.co/pbtgxaNN7C
— TACT Fostering (@TACTCare) January 23, 2023