Seventy unaccompanied refugee children remain in UK hotels awaiting longer-term housing, the Home Office has said.
Under the UK government’s policy, young migrants who arrive alone are kept in “bridging accommodation” under the care of safeguarding officers while their applications are processed.
However, the Home Office’s second permanent secretary Tricia Hayes would not confirm that each child was being cared for by an individual qualified to look after lone migrant children, many of whom may not speak English.
Giving evidence to MPs on the Home Office Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Ms Hayes said the Home Office is “confident that they have got the right skills and behaviours to look after children”.
Asked specifically if there was a “safeguarding qualified person” on site around the clock to look after the children, Ms Hayes said there was a “dedicated care worker”, without giving further details.
“Our overwhelming priority has been the welfare of the children and that’s driven everything that we’ve done,” she said.
Her comments came after a charity claimed it had come across two unaccompanied Afghan boys who had been living in a hotel for a month without a change of clothes, money or legal advice.
Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, suggested all 70 of the lone asylum seekers being housed in hotels were from Afghanistan.
However, Ms Hayes said 70 was the total number of unaccompanied migrants from all nationalities staying in British hotels. She said 16 children staying alone in hotels were under the age of 16.
The Home Office has been contacted for clarification on this matter.
The government offers local authorities up to £143 ($195) per night for each unaccompanied minor they accommodate.
The department has repeatedly been criticised by local councils over its approach to dealing with young migrants.
In July, Brighton and Hove City Council hit out at the government for moving dozens of child migrants into a hotel in the area with less than a day’s notice.
And in June, Kent County Council (KCC) said it no longer had the capacity to accept lone child asylum seekers and issued legal proceedings against the Home Office.
Last week KCC announced that it had resumed offering asylum to unaccompanied child refugees, but warned it would “keep all legal options open” in its negotiations with the Home Office.
The move followed a legal challenge brought against it and the Home Office by the charity Detention Action.
The charity accused the government and KCC of “dangerous failings” when it came to caring for youngsters.
Mr Rycroft also touched on the wider issue of people and families being housed in hotels while their asylum applications are being processed.
Under Operation Pitting, the UK airlifted 15,000 Afghans from Kabul airport after the Taliban took over the city in August.
Three weeks on from the end of the mission, Mr Rycroft said around 7,000 Afghans remain in hotels awaiting permanent residences.
He declined to offer a target date for them to be moved into more suitable, longer-term accommodation.