The UK Home Office has placed more than 100 lone asylum-seeker children in hotels in recent weeks, despite the practice having been found unlawful by the high court.
The government’s continued use of hotels has been condemned by human rights and refugee organisations since more than 200 children have gone missing, including dozens who vanished from one hotel in Brighton.
One of the reasons why children continue to be placed in hotels, some for a number of weeks, is that Kent county council says it cannot cope with the number of children arriving. The council’s geographical location means it has responsibility to take into care lone children who arrive at the Kent coast in small boats. It has warned that they are struggling to meet their legal obligations to UK as well as asylum-seeker children.
Both the Home Office and Kent county council have been found by the high court to have acted unlawfully by failing to look after these children properly.
A high court case calling for this group of children to be protected is in progress, with the next hearing scheduled for 15 September. The court ruled in an earlier hearing that the Home Office’s routine use of accommodating children in hotels was unlawful. In another last week, it made an order declaring that Kent county council had acted unlawfully in its approach to the children.
The council says it is looking after 661 asylum-seeker children along with 1,030 asylum-seeker care leavers. In a recent court hearing, the Home Office admitted there were 130 newly arrived lone asylum-seeker children in hotels as of 15 August, some who had been there since before 27 July. More than 100 children are still missing from several hotels in which the Home Office placed them.
The charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) and Brighton and Hove city council, which raised concerns about the large number of children who went missing from the hotel in its area, are involved in the legal challenge.
In arguments submitted to the court, Brighton and Hove city council said: “There is a serious possibility that a criminal offence is being committed by hotel owners contracted by the secretary of state to manage what are de facto unregistered children’s homes.”
Patricia Durr, the chief executive of ECPAT UK, said: “It is shocking that a small charity like ours has had to pursue this case to end the unlawful practice of the home secretary and Kent county council which has meant thousands of children are denied care on the basis of their immigration status and too many remain missing at risk of significant harm as a result.”
A government spokesperson said: “Due to the rise in illegal Channel crossings, the government had no option but to accommodate young people in hotels on a temporary basis while placements with local authorities were found. We will continue to work at pace with Kent county council and local authorities across the UK to ensure unaccompanied children are provided with the crucial care placements they need.”
Sue Chandler, cabinet member for children’s services at Kent county council, said: “It is with deep regret that, due to ever escalating arrivals, Kent county council is once again in a position whereby it cannot meet both its statutory duties to accept all new unaccompanied child asylum-seeker arrivals, care for them safely and discharge all of its other duties towards vulnerable children and young people in Kent.”