Last week a government minister admitted that 200 asylum-seeking children have gone missing from hotels run by the Home Office.
This distressing news is not the first time we are witnessing this government’s apathy towards those landing on our shores after fleeing war and persecution.
Late last year the Home Secretary was dragged to the Commons to explain overcrowding in an immigration centre in Kent. The situation was so bad it was labelled “a breach of humane conditions”.
According to Sussex Police, one in four unaccompanied children in a single hotel have gone missing and around half of them are still missing. It would therefore appear that this one hotel accounts for 40% of the missing children. The Home Office must immediately end its contract with the hotel in question and move the children to safer accommodation.
This clearly raises broader concerns. My staff and I spoke with officers from Bristol City Council and charities working with refugees and asylum seekers in Bristol to find out if there is a risk of a similar situation happening here.
Through these conversations I learnt that not only is the government failing to protect unaccompanied minors, it may also be failing to correctly identify them.
In the experience of one charity worker, a large number of minors arriving in Bristol were originally identified by the UK Border Agency as adults. This places additional burden on Local Authorities to carry out age-assessment medical tests when there is already a strain on their resources.
I believe the government should consider the need for a proper inquiry and team to pursue the links between organised crime, trafficking, and children in these hotels. We need urgent and serious action to crack down on the criminal gangs, and to keep children and young people safe.
Additionally, the Home Office must speed up decisions on asylum claims. People are being left in limbo for years, with genuine refugees being denied the help they need. The government should reform resettlement schemes to better target those most at risk of exploitation by trafficking and smuggler gangs, such as those with family connections in the UK. The government should negotiate a replacement for the Dublin agreement which includes safe returns and safe family reunions.
I will continue to push the government to ensure unaccompanied children seeking asylum are protected and safeguarded.