Two children add to missing ranks of underage refugees from UK hotels

Youngsters were sent to accommodation despite legal ruling that they should not have been put there

Children play at the Manston immigration short-term holding facility near Thanet in Kent. PA
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Two refugee children who arrived in the UK without an accompanying adult have gone missing from hotels amid ballooning numbers of underage arrivals now living in temporary accommodation.

The pair were part of a group of 50 sent to hotels in August in the weeks after a court ruled it was unlawful to send them there.

The new disappearances were revealed by a charity fighting to end the practice, raising fears the children have been trafficked by criminals. This year has seen hundreds of children disappear from hotels and scores are believed to have never been found.

A “significant proportion” of refugee children sent to hotels are aged under 16, some as young as 13, the High Court in London heard.

The age or gender of the missing duo were not revealed.

The authorities in the UK have faced heavy criticism after hundreds of lone refugee children, including one aged 12, disappeared after being sent to hotels, amid fears they may have been lured away by criminal gangs.

Every Child Protected Against Trafficking has taken legal action against Kent County Council. In the latest hearing its lawyers told the High Court more children have gone missing.

Fifty lone asylum seeker children have been placed in hotels by Kent since August 21 and “two have gone missing”, said Ecpat's barrister Martin Westgate, in a written argument.

Laura Duran, the head of policy, advocacy and research for Ecpat, told The National: “These children should have been in care and looked after by a local authority from day one.

“The fact that they’ve gone missing, particularly while outside of the child protection system, is even more concerning, given the risk of harm they’re likely to be exposed to and potentially having been trafficked.

“It’s always a concern when you have a child from a very vulnerable population such as unaccompanied children, who have nobody in the UK with parental responsibility for them and so are at increased risk from child trafficking.”

A group of migrants arriving at Dover after crossing the English Channel. PA

A judge has ruled the practice of housing refugee children who arrive unaccompanied in the UK, nearly all of them on small boats, should be stopped.

The court was told that as of Monday, Kent County Council has 777 lone asylum seeker children in its care – up from 605 in mid-August. They are living three or four to a room in its accommodation centres.

The council is bringing a case against Home Secretary Suella Braverman over the burden it faces in having to deal with such children, as the area in the UK where all small boats arrive. Brighton and Hove City Council is bringing a similar action.

In the previous hearing in August, Judge Sir Martin Chamberlain ordered Kent County Council and the Home Office to work together to find appropriate accommodation for lone refugee children.

He was concerned they would blame each other over the issue, leading to an “impasse”, he said.

Ms Duran said it was important the court continue to oversee the process of ending the practice.

“The judge has ruled that it’s unlawful and we want the practice to end as soon as possible and safely without any child put at risk,” she said.

“The court’s role here really is essential given that you have two different government departments seemingly at odds at each other, so there needs to be an arbiter.”

A protest in Brighton about missing refugee children. EPA-EFE

Earlier this year, The National was told that people-trafficking gangs have been using mobile phone trackers to find refugee children in UK hotels and then lure them away.

A Home Office representative said: “Due to the rise in dangerous small boats crossings, the government has had no alternative but to urgently use hotels to give unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in the UK a roof over their heads.

“The well-being of children and minors in our care is an absolute priority and there is 24/7 security at every hotel used to accommodate them.

“When a child goes missing, a multi-agency, missing persons protocol is mobilised, alongside the police and local authorities, to establish their whereabouts and ensure they are safe.”

Kent County Council has been approached for comment.

Updated: September 19, 2023, 10:42 PM