UK inquiry into claims of 'kidnapped' child asylum-seekers

Reports suggest children have been abducted off street outside Brighton hotel and bundled into cars

Migrants are taken to shore in Dungeness, Kent, after being rescued from a small boat in the English Channel in September 2022. PA
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The UK Home Office has launched an investigation into reports that dozens of child asylum-seekers have been kidnapped by gangs from a hotel run by the department, a minister has said.

The Home Office “doesn’t know of any cases of kidnap” and understood “nothing like that” has been reported to it, said Conservative frontbencher Lord Simon Murray of Blidworth.

But the Home Office minister confirmed the reports are “subject of an investigation”.

An investigation by The Observer quoted child protection sources and a whistleblower working for a Home Office contractor saying youngsters were abducted off the street outside the Brighton hotel and bundled into cars.

Lord Murray also confirmed that 200 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children remain missing after initially being accommodated in hotels since July 2021, adding 88 per cent, or 176, were Albanian nationals.

"We’re all horrified about what we’ve heard and read about these cases of children going missing, and I will use the term kidnapped, from some of these homes," Labour’s home affairs spokesman, Lord Vernon Coaker, said during an urgent question session.

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“Is it true that the Home Office was warned months ago about these problems? Is it true that the Home Office ignored those warnings and failed to act, because if it is it’s a failure of the state to act as a parent.

“And with Home Office sources denying these children have been kidnapped, can the minister at least confirm that the department accepts legal responsibility for their safety now, even if they didn’t in the past?”

“Certainly the department doesn’t know of any cases of kidnap," Lord Murray replied.

“The reports in the media over the weekend are, of course, the subject of investigation within the Home Office. But at the moment nothing like that has been reported to us, to my knowledge.”

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Earlier, Lord Murray told peers: “The Department for Education collects data annually on the number of all looked-after children in England, including those who are missing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

“We, 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 those who have gone missing are subsequently traced and located, as I’ve already said.

“The numbers are as follows: over 4,600 children have been accommodated in hotels since they were opened in July 2021.

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“Some 440 missing episodes — that’s the term, an episode, used as some children have gone missing and then been located and subsequently gone missing a second time or more often.

“All of those 440 have been male save for four, who have been female. Two hundred of the children remain missing and only one of these is female.

“Of the 200 that remain missing, 88 per cent are Albanian nationals And of the 200 missing, 13 are under the age of 16.”

Updated: January 23, 2023, 8:51 PM