UK government warned over 250 unaccompanied child migrants in hotels

Number of children travelling across the Channel solo has trebled in recent months

The number of unaccompanied child migrants staying in hotels in Britain has trebled in two months as 250 youngsters await permanent accommodation. Pictured, migrants rescued from the English Channel by UK Border Force sit on a bus after arriving at Dover harbour in Kent last week. Reuters

A children’s charity has issued a warning to the UK Government over the “incredible risk” faced by unaccompanied migrant children staying in hotels after the number trebled in just two months.

About 250 youngsters are believed to be staying in four temporary accommodation sites on England’s south coast — more than three times the figure reported by the Home Office in September.

The Children’s Society called the situation “shocking”, while Ofsted, a body which is responsible for inspecting education facilities for children and care homes for youngsters, said it was simply unacceptable.

This year has seen records broken for the number of migrants illegally crossing the Channel on small boats from France to land on British shores. The milder than usual weather has led to a continuous flow of inflatable dinghies through busy shipping lanes as winter approaches.

Marieke Widmann, policy and practice adviser at the Children’s Society, said the hundreds of children who made the perilous journey without a parent or guardian are in need of a secure living space to start their new life.

She warned the government must get a grip of the situation after The Guardian reported that the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under the care of authorities had swelled to 250.

“These are vulnerable children and young people who have often fled war and persecution and may be frightened and distressed after an unimaginably traumatic journey,” Ms Widmann said.

“It’s crucial they get the help, support and security they need when they arrive here alone, including access to appropriate accommodation. Moving unaccompanied children into hotels with limited care and supervision is shocking and places these already vulnerable children at incredible risk. We are aware several children have already gone missing.

“The Home Office has a duty to protect all children and promote their welfare. It must ensure these children receive proper care and support so they feel safe and secure and can recover from the terrible trauma they have been through.”

Migrants sit aboard a Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat after being rescued while crossing the English Channel off a beach in Dungeness, south-east England, on November 24. This year has seen record-breaking numbers of migrants cross the Channel on small boats. AFP

In September, the Home Office said 70 unaccompanied minors were staying in hotels, classed as “bridging accommodation”, while they waited to be taken to longer-term facilities.

Tricia Hayes, the Home Office’s Second Permanent Secretary, said safeguarding officers were on site to care for the children. However, she would not confirm whether each employee was qualified to care for vulnerable unaccompanied child migrants, many of whom may not speak English.

Kent Refugee Action Network, a non-profit which provides assistance to unaccompanied child migrants, said it was “concerned” about the number of children being accommodated in hotels.

A UK government representative said officials are “working around the clock” to liaise with local councils to find permanent homes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

“Our efforts remain focused on ensuring every single unaccompanied child receives appropriate support and care whilst we seek a permanent place for them,” the representative added.

“We are determined to end the use of hotels as soon as possible and our Nationality and Borders Bill will fix the broken asylum system.”

The bill, which is making its way through parliament, will criminalise asylum seekers who arrive in the UK via illegal routes, giving them only temporary status under which they have limited rights.

The proposed legislation is part of the Conservative government’s plan to stamp out illegal immigration and dissuade migrants from paying smugglers to ensure their passage to Britain.

Last week about 27 migrants drowned while trying to cross the Channel on a blow-up dinghy from France, prompting calls for the UK and France to launch a co-ordinated effort to stop people smugglers from operating in camps in northern France.

Updated: November 29th 2021, 1:18 PM