Home Office won’t say how many children are still missing from migrant hotels

The Home Office is refusing to tell MPs how many asylum seeker children are still missing from migrant hotels, i has learned.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s department is facing criticism from MPs after it said it could no longer publish figures on the fate of missing asylum seeker children because the data is not “quality assured”.

MPs have accused the Government of “hiding from scrutiny” and called for “clarity and transparency” on the issue.

The last update in June said that 154 were missing.

In January, the Government had disclosed that 200 unaccompanied children who had sought asylum in the UK were missing after a whistleblower raised concerns about human trafficking at hotels where they were being housed.

At the time, Immigration minister Robert Jenrick told MPs the disappearances were “extremely disturbing” and the Home Office pledged to work “around the clock” to find them.

Children’s Commissioner Rachel D’Souza said she was “deeply concerned” by the reports and Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused the Home Office of a “dereliction of duty”.

But despite the backlash, progress finding the children proved slow. Between January and March of this year, 13 children were located and four more had disappeared.

Some of those missing are believed to have been trafficked, while others who disappeared from the south coast were located as far away as Scotland.

The Home Office had been providing responses to written questions from MPs asking how many children were still missing but it has now ended publication of the data, saying the numbers were “not quality assured” and could only be obtained via Freedom of Information request.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss asked the Government in July asked if the Home Secretary would take steps to “take steps to publish weekly data on the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children who are missing from hotel accommodation and unaccounted for”.

Mr Jenrick said this was not possible.

Home Affairs Committee chair and Labur MP Diana Johnson told i: “Every single child needs to be accounted for and the circumstances of the disappearance understood. This is not only so we know they are safe and free from exploitation, but also to ensure that lessons are learnt to ensure such failings are not repeated.

“It is also deeply concerning to see the Home Office hide from scrutiny and avoid disclosing key information around asylum issues. One day its ‘commercial sensitivities’ the next it is ‘data quality’. They have a duty to be clear and open about their policies and the impact they are having.”

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton who has been trying to seek answers from the Government, said: “Ministers are refusing to come clean, and MPs are being left in the dark. With vulnerable young people at risk, It’s time for clarity and transparency from Government – we must be informed and updated on the fate of these children.”

Labour’s Lord Dubs, a senior peer who came to Britain as a child refugee, told i: “It is shocking that when unaccompanied asylum seeking children come here they’re not safe from criminals and traffickers. The Home Office should be doing much more to find these children and give them safety”.

Alarm first raised over missing child asylum seekers in January

Concern about the missing child asylum seekers came to the fore following a report in the Observer in January, claiming scores of children had been kidnapped from a hotel in Hove.

According to staff working at the hotel, children were being “taken from the street by traffickers”. In response, the Government confirmed that there were 200 missing child asylum seekers and pledged to work “around the clock” to locate them.

The use of hotel accommodation for lone child asylum seekers was harshly criticised following the revelation, with hotels being seen as an inappropriate destination for those arriving.

In July, the High Court ruled that the Home Office had unlawfully placed lone child asylum seekers in hotels following a legal challenge from the campaign group Every Child Protected Against Child Trafficking and local councils.

The Home Office pledged to remove children from the hotels following the court decision, claiming the policy was only a last resort due to the high number of channel crossings.

Written evidence from Brighton and Hove Council’s lawyers heard in the High Court last week stated that 50 child asylum seekers remained missing the Hove hotel.

The council is an interested party in separate action taken by Kent County Council against the Home Office over what it claims is the unlawful way in which the government manages unaccompanied refugee children in Britain.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael MP said: “The Home Secretary must finally come clean about these childrens’ fates, and explain why it’s taken so long in the first place.”

Tory MP David Simmonds, regarded as an expert on child refugees due to his work on the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme at the Local Government Association, said: “Our laws make all unaccompanied children the responsibility of their local council, who have a duty to safeguard them and ensure their access to education.

“Current practice by the Home Office does not reflect this long standing legal requirement, leaving children in limbo. It’s essential that immigration processes reflect the laws of our country and ensure children are kept safe.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government has never published formal statistical releases of missing UASC (unaccompanied asylum seeking children) data but has released figures in response to MPs’ questions on an ad hoc basis.”

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