A police chase to save two child asylum seekers from a criminal gang has highlighted the dangers that vulnerable migrants face after being placed in UK hotels as temporary homes.
An MP told the British Parliament how police were able to stop a car containing, child migrants as passengers, and driven by a “gang leader" but it also revealed the shortcomings in official policy.
Opposition Labour and Green MPs said children were being “dumped by the Home Office”. They accused the Government of a “dereliction of duty” over the 440 who had gone missing in six months..
Hove MP Peter Kyle said it was “ignorant” to suggest the hotels were specialist facilities, and that having visited them, he had found some “extremely vulnerable”.
“The only organisation that responded, I believe, effectively and with the kind of seriousness that you’d expect was Sussex Police, but they lacked the facilities, the resources and the powers to do the job that needed to be done,” he said.
“It is incorrect to say these children are not being coerced into crime because just last year Sussex Police pursued a car that had collected two children from outside this hotel.
“When they managed to get the car to safety they released two child migrants and they arrested one of the members who was driving it — who was a gang leader who was there to coerce the children into crime.”
The showdown in parliament came after it was learnt that 200 child asylum seekers were still missing.
Since July 2021, 4,660 unaccompanied children have entered the UK, government figures show.
Of these, 440 have gone missing at some point and 200 are still missing. Of those 200, 13 are aged under 16, Mr Jenrick said.
Eighty-eight per cent of the missing 200 are Albanian. The rest are from Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Vietnam, Pakistan and Turkey.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick defended the government.
“We take our safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously and we have procedures in place to ensure all children are accommodated as safely as possible while in these hotels,” he said.
“We’ve no power to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in these settings and we know some do go missing.”
He added: “When any child goes missing, a multi-agency missing persons protocol is mobilised alongside the police and relevant local authority to establish their whereabouts and to ensure that they are safe. Many of those who have gone missing are subsequently traced and located.”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the Home Office had shown “staggering complacency and incompetence”.
Labour accused the government of “a total dereliction of duty” that is “putting children at risk”.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that “there is a criminal network involved and the government is completely failing to stop them”.
“Because this is a total dereliction of duty that is putting children at risk, we need an urgent and serious action to crack down on these gangs and to keep children and young people safe,” she added.