hundreds of children asylum seekers have disappeared since the British government began housing minors in hotels due to strain on the country’s asylum accommodation system, British Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick told lawmakers in parliament on Tuesday, amid requests for an investigation into the matter.
Jenrick said Tuesday that around 200 children have gone missing since July 2021. “Of the 4,600 unaccompanied children who have been accommodated in hotels since July 2021, there have been 440 cases of disappearance and 200 children are still missing,” he said.
About 13 of the 200 missing children are under the age of 16 and one is a woman, according to government data. Most of the missing, 88%, are Albanian citizens and the remaining 12% are from Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Vietnam, Pakistan and Turkey.
Jenrick blamed the problem on an increase in migrant boat crossings across the English Channel to the UK, leaving the government “with no choice” but to use “specialist hotels” to house minors from July. of 2021.
Although the contracted use of hotels was intended as a temporary solution, as of October there were still four in operation with more than 200 rooms designated for migrant children, according to a report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.
British charities and immigrant rights groups have long complained about poor conditions in the country’s overwhelmed and underfunded asylum system.
The number of asylum claims processed in the UK has plummeted in recent years, leaving people in limbo for months and years, stuck in processing facilities or temporary hotels and unable to work, and fueling an intractable debate about the borders of Great Britain.
The missing migrant children were first reported in the British media on Saturday, when The Observer newspaper reported that “dozens” of asylum-seeking children were abducted by “gangs” from a hotel run by the UK Home Office in Brighton, southern England.
Calls for an urgent investigation into the matter have been mounting ever since, with the opposition Labor Party, the human rights organization the Refugee Council, as well as local authorities demanding urgent action.
The Home Office dismissed those reports as false, and in a statement to CNN, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The well-being of the children in our care is a top priority.”
The spokesperson added that they had “robust protection procedures” and “when a child goes missing, local authorities work closely with agencies, including police, to urgently establish their whereabouts.”
While the UK government does not have the power to detain unaccompanied minors, who are free to leave hotels, Jenrick defended the UK Home Office’s protective practices saying records are kept and children leaving and checked they return to the hotels and that support workers are on hand to escort the children off-site on activities and social outings.
“Many of those who have disappeared are subsequently tracked down and located,” Jenrick told parliament.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper of the opposition Labor Party blamed human traffickers in her response to parliament saying that “children are literally being picked up from outside the building, disappearing and not being found. The traffickers are taking them off the street.”
Cooper said “urgent and serious action” is needed to crack down on gangs and keep children and youth safe.
“We know from the Greater Manchester Police, they have warned that asylum hotels and children’s homes are being attacked by organized criminals. And in this case, there is a pattern here that the gangs know where to go to get the children, often probably because they trafficked them here in the first place,” she added. “There is a criminal network involved. The government is completely failing to stop them.”
On Monday, the British charity Refugee Action said it is “shocking that children who have come to this country for safety are in danger. The final responsibility rests with the Minister of the Interior and her decision to manage an asylum system based not on compassion, but on hostility”, they added.
The UK charity, the Refugee Council, tweeted that they are “deeply concerned by the practice of placing separated children in Home Office accommodation, outside of legal provisions, putting them at risk of harm with over 200 of them missing.” .