In Depth

The child refugees disappearing from Home Office hotels

Revelation comes after charities and officials warned ministers over safety

Child refugees have disappeared from two hotels used by the Home Office to accommodate unaccompanied minors, according to a report.

Since July, the Home Office has housed 287 children at a hotel in East Sussex and another in Kent. The average length of stay was nine days before the children were moved to a more permanent home.

Home Office sources have admitted that during this time a “small number” disappeared, including at least one who was under 16, said The Times. Officials do not know how many people cannot now be traced but it is believed to be fewer than ten.

In a separate report last week, the newspaper said hundreds of child refugees as young as nine have gone missing from the care system after arriving in Britain from across the Channel.

In one case, a 15-year-old Vietnamese boy is feared to have been forced into slavery after the Home Office placed him alone in a hotel and he disappeared overnight.

The Times added that since July charities have been raising their concerns for the welfare of children housed in hotels. And Home Office officials have privately warned ministers that unaccompanied child refugees were “at risk of disappearing, being kidnapped by traffickers, harming themselves or being exposed to sex offenders”, said the paper.

The Home Office does not require hotels to prove they meet strict health and safety requirements before children move in. Priti Patel, the home secretary, said it was merely “an expectation that hotels meet the statutory health and safety requirements”.

Under current arrangements, local authorities are by default the “corporate parent” of any unaccompanied child in their area. The Home Office said that children staying at the hotels were encouraged to remain there to receive support but were not forced to do so.

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, a charity that campaigns for migrants, said the news raised “serious concerns” over the Home Office’s safeguarding.

She said “the fate of the missing children should now weigh on the consciences of civil servants in the Home Office”.

In August, the BBC reported that a five-year-old Afghan refugee fell to his death from a Sheffield hotel window.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We take the welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children extremely seriously and have safeguarding procedures in place to ensure all those in our accommodation are safe and supported whilst we seek a permanent place for them with a local authority. All hotels are selected using commercial agreements used across government, they must meet relevant health and safety legislation and provide their latest health and safety risk assessment.”

She added that there were care workers at the hotels around the clock and that social workers and nurses visited at least three days a week.

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