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200 Migrant Children Are Still Missing. Why Is the UK Home Office Failing Our Most Vulnerable?

Questions for the UK government continue as 200 asylum-seeking children remain missing. 

The children were confirmed lost on January 22, after British newspapers began to report dozens of migrant children being kidnapped from the government-run hotels where they were being sheltered. Increased pressure on the UK’s asylum system has caused the Conservatives to begin utilising hotels as part of an alternate refugee housing model.

Of the missing children, 13 are aged under 16, outlined Home Office official Simon Murray last week. 

The government’s admission came soon after a Home Office whistle-blower revealed that refugee children were being abducted from the streets by gangs and forced into cars. “Children are literally being taken from the street by traffickers,” the source outlined.

The Conservative party have since come under scrutiny for their handling of the crisis, with political opponents and various children’s charities claiming that they simply have not done enough to ensure the protection of migrant children arriving in the UK. 

One children’s charity, TACT Fostering, stated on Twitter that government officials had repeatedly ignored its pleas to place the vulnerable young people into sufficiently monitored housing. Claiming the government lacked competence, they asserted that “putting these children at significant risk by placing them in inadequately staffed hotels was deliberate.”

Another tweet saw the organisation argue there had been room for these children to be sheltered under the wing of the country’s care system, and it was an issue of mismanagement rather than lack of capacity.

UK charity Refugee Action held the Home Secretary accountable for running the country's asylum system “not based on compassion, but hostility.” Labour’s Yvette Cooper also criticised the Conservatives for their reckless neglect in Parliament last week, accusing them of a “dereliction of duty” for failing to stop criminal networks taking the children away. 

Cooper also expressed concerns over the lack of transparency as to who was legally responsible for the asylum-seeking young people. The Home Office and local councils have repeatedly traded blame and deemed the other accountable, with Conservative MP Tim Loughton calling it a “grey area” between cabinet and constituency responsibility.  

In a government-issued statement, they claimed “the Home Office have no power to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, [although] we know that some of them go missing. Many are subsequently traced. The wellbeing of children in our care is an absolute priority.” 

Although the use of hotels was only intended as a temporary solution while domicile status is decided, a report from the Chief of UK Borders and Immigration outlined that four were still in operation as of October. Government Minister Robert Jenrick told parliament last week that they have had “no alternative” but to place the young people in hotels, due to a surge in the number of migrants arriving on Britain's shores. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Conservatives have faced longstanding criticism for choosing to house vulnerable children in this way. Brighton City Council first raised concerns as far back as 18 months ago, with the area’s MP arguing it was “entirely foreseeable” that those living under such circumstances could be easily snatched and trafficked by gangs.

Moreover, just last year Sussex Police were called to pursue a car that had abducted two migrant children from outside a government-run hotel. There were also fears a 15-year-old refugee had been sold into slavery when he disappeared, seemingly overnight, from the same place.

The UK’s lack of a robust asylum policy is failing these children, and actively facilitating the insidious pattern of organized crime groups targeting them. It is clear that housing them in hotels without any assigned 'corporate parent' is neither safe or responsible, nor does it adhere to the level of care and respect that those seeking asylum deserve.

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