Hundreds of underage asylum seekers have gone missing since the UK government began housing minors in hotels due to a strain on the country’s asylum reception system, UK Immigration Secretary Robert Jenrick told lawmakers in Parliament on Tuesday, amid calls for an inquiry to the case.
Jenrick said on Tuesday that about 200 children have been missing since July 2021. “Of the 4,600 unaccompanied children housed in hotels as of July 2021, 440 are missing 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 records. The majority of the missing, 88%, are of Albanian nationality 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 alternative” from July 2021 but to use “specialized hotels” to accommodate minors.
While the contracted use of hotels was considered as a workaround, four were still in use as of October with more than 200 rooms earmarked for child migrants, according to a report from the independent Superintendent of Borders and Immigration.
British charities and migrant rights groups have long complained about the poor conditions in the country’s overwhelmed and underfunded asylum system.
The number of asylum applications processed in the UK has plummeted in recent years, leaving people in limbo for months and years – trapped in processing facilities or temporary hotels and unable to work – and fueling a persistent debate about Britain’s borders.
The missing migrant children were first reported in British media on Saturday, when The Observer newspaper reported that “dozens” of asylum-seeking children had been abducted by “gangs” from a hotel run by the UK Home Office in Brighton, southern England.
Since then, calls for an urgent inquiry into the matter have mounted, with the opposition Labor Party, the human rights group the Refugee Council and local authorities demanding urgent action.
The Department of the Interior has called those reports untrue, and in a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the Department of the Interior said, “The welfare of children in our care is an absolute priority.”
The spokesperson added that they had “robust protection procedures in place” and “when a child goes missing, local authorities work closely with agencies, including the police, to establish their whereabouts as quickly as possible.”
While the UK government has no powers to detain unaccompanied minors, who are free to leave hotels, Jenrick defended the UK Home Office’s protection practices, saying records are kept and monitored of children entering the hotel. leaving and returning to hotels and that emergency responders are present. hand to accompany children outside the campsite in activities and social excursions.
“Many of those who are missing are subsequently tracked down and located,” Jenrick told parliament.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, of the opposition Labor party, blamed traffickers in her response to parliament, saying: “Children are literally picked up from outside the building, disappear and are not found. They are picked off the streets by human traffickers.”
Cooper said “urgent and serious action” is needed to crack down on gangs to keep children and young people safe.
“We know from Greater Manchester Police that they have warned that asylum hotels and children’s homes are being targeted by organized criminals. And in this case, there’s a pattern that gangs know where to get the kids, often because they trafficked them here in the first place,” she added. “There is a criminal network involved. The government is totally failing to stop them.”
On Monday, the UK charity Refugee Action said it was “outrageous that children who have come to this country to ask for safety are being put in danger. The ultimate responsibility rests with the Home Secretary and her decision to run an asylum system based not on compassion, but on hostility,” they added.
UK charity The Refugee Council tweeted that they are “deeply concerned by the practice of placing separated children in Home Office accommodation, outside the legal provisions, putting them at risk of harm as more than 200 of them are missing .”