The UK’s children’s commissioner has pledged to increase visits to hotels hosting unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.
Dame Rachel de Souza has faced criticism after it was revealed she had only visited two hotels in the past 19 months.
It comes as hundreds of children have gone missing amid fears they are being taken by gangs.
An investigation by children’s advocacy body Article 39 discovered that despite the growing scandal over the whereabouts of the missing children, Dame Rachel had only made two visits herself and her team only made three visits to interview minors up until last week.
The team only visited two hotels in Kent and one in Coventry and not the hotel in Brighton, which has reported the largest number of disappearances.
The commissioner’s office has told The National a team is planning a number of visits over the next two weeks.
“My team and I have stepped up our visits to the children in the hotels run by the Home Office over the past 18 months and have a programme of monthly in-person visits planned alongside much more regular advice and advocacy through Help at Hand,” she said in a statement.
From only one of Brighton’s hotels, more than 200 children — some as young as 11 — have gone missing and 76 remain unaccounted for.
Nationally, more than 440 young unaccompanied asylum seekers have gone missing from hotels since the Home Office began its policy of housing them in the venues in July 2021.
“Dame Rachel de Souza has unique legal powers to enter any premises that are not private homes, in order to interview children and check the standard of care provided there,” Article 39 said.
“None of the visits made by the Children’s Commissioner or her team were to the Brighton and Hove hotel.
“Given the gravity and urgency of child protection concerns, and indications that the Home Office may be seeking to regularise the diversion of unaccompanied children from the child welfare system, Article 39 and the Good Law Project, together with 49 other organisations, have written to parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights urging it to establish a stand-alone inquiry.”
The Home Office has been using six hotels across the UK to house unaccompanied children who have been rescued from small boats in the Channel.
It is feared the children have been taken by criminal gangs as some of them have been found in different parts of the country acting as spotters for counterfeiting and drugs gangs.
Residents in Brighton have created a protest group called Homes Not Hotels to campaign for youngsters to be given appropriate care places and not put in hotels.
“Our long term campaign goal is that the UK government commits to housing all asylum seekers in good quality housing and not hotels in bad conditions,” organiser Sasha Haddad told The National.
“The missing children issue is happening all over the country but because Brighton had a whistleblower the spotlight came here. We hope our action will inspire whistleblowers to come forward from other hotels across the UK to highlight the reality of what is happening.”
The Home Office has pledged to address the situation which it maintains is still “temporary”. It has blamed the rise in small boat crossings for the situation.
Some of the youngsters have been found during police raids on cannabis farms and drugs raids in other parts of the UK.
Last week, Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced that migrants arriving illegally on boats would be deported and banned from gaining asylum. The bill cleared its first reading in the Commons on Monday, although some Conservative MPs have called for amendments to protect trafficked women, children and modern slavery victims.
It has led the commissioner to raise concerns the policy might lead to more children going missing.
“I am concerned that, while unaccompanied children are exempted from the duty to remove, the Secretary of State would be able to make arrangements for their removal before they can claim asylum, and at the moment they turn 18,” she said.
“This is a violation of their rights. It is likely to dramatically increase the number of children going missing, as they fear what will happen on their 18th birthday.
“I am also deeply worried about formalising the role of the Home Office as the provider of accommodation for these children. These are children, and they need care, not just accommodation while they await removal.
“I do not believe that the Home Office has been able to adequately care for children in the hotels it has been providing since 2021 — these children should have looked-after status from the moment they arrive and be in the care of local authorities. They must have access to legal aid, advocacy, education and care, in foster homes or children’s homes
“I will seek clarity and protection for children as this bill progresses — but there are children today living in temporary hotel accommodation who need to have their voices heard.”
The Good Law Project has launched a set of legal challenges against the government to ensure unaccompanied children who are seeking asylum in the UK are protected.