A junior minister in the UK government admitted in the British parliament that "more than 200" migrant children have gone missing since July 2021, even though they were supposed to be in the care of the Home Office. 200 remain missing.
Simon, Lord Murray of Blidworth, a junior minister in the UK Home Office (interior ministry) and also a member of the House of Lords, admitted in an address to Parliament’s upper house on Monday (January 23) that more than 200 migrant children had gone missing while supposedly under Home Office supervision, and 200 remain missing.
In answer to a question from a Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven, Lord Murray said, "the rise in small boat crossings has meant that we have had to temporarily accommodate [migrant] children in hotel accommodation whilst local authority accommodation is found."
In the UK, anyone found to be an unaccompanied minor arriving in the UK as a migrant, is the responsibility of the Home Office and should be offered suitable accommodation for children by local authorities.
Hundreds of these children had been accommodated in a seaside hotel in Hove, part of the city of Brighton, and just along the south coast from where the majority of migrants land after crossing the Channel.
Also read: Almost 40 Albanian children missing from UK care
One girl missing, 13 under the age of 16
"When a child goes missing," continued Lord Murray, "a multi-agency missing persons protocol is mobilized. Many of those who have gone missing are subsequently traced and located. 200 of the children remain missing. And only one of these is female."
Lord Murray said that 88% of those children who remain missing "are Albanian nationals, and of the 200 missing, 13 are under the age of 16." Lord Murray admitted there were “many reasons why children go missing from care generally, this is true also of unaccompanied asylum seeking children.”
The minister said it would be "wrong and we are not in a position to make generalizations about the reasons for them going missing." According to the British newspaper The Guardian, who in conjuction with its sister Sunday newspaper The Observer carried out an investigation published at the weekend (January 22) about missing asylum seeking children, most of the children have been accommodated in six different Home Office contracted hotels around the UK, one of which is in Brighton, from where 137 missing children reportedly absconded.
Two arrested on suspicion of human trafficking
Police in Sussex (the county in which Brighton is situated) told the Guardian that they had already arrested two men on suspicion of human trafficking, after some of the children staying in the hotel in Hove (Brighton) had been seen getting into their car. However, a spokesperson for the police told the Guardian they they had not received any allegations of kidnapping.
60 of those children, a police spokersperson told the Guardian, have since been located, but 76 cases from the Hove hotel "remain under investigation." One of the cases has been transferred to a "neighboring force, believed to be the Met[ropolitan police, which covers the London area]."
The migration watchdog "found in October that hotels being used to house unaccompanied children were using staff who had not been checked by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)," reported the Guardian. This service is required under government rules and is meant to protect children throughout society.
Also read: Terms and acronyms that asylum seekers need to know in the UK
The independent body inspecting borders and immigration also found, after inspecting four hotels housing young unaccompanied migrants, that "two of the hotels were found to have staff living onsite who had not been cleared by the DBS," reported the Guardian.
The Observer investigation traced the story of several of the children who disappeared from the Hove hotel. One of them, Wassim Hamam*, has not been seen since he disappeared on April 1 2022, reports the Observer. In that period in April, found the Observer investigation, at least five children under the age of 18 went missing from that hotel in Hove.
Police say they warned the Home Office that these children could be targetted by criminal networks. In fact, one of the security guards who was subcontracted to work at the hotel and remains anonymous told the Observer, "most of the children disappear into county lines," gangs which work trafficking and selling drugs around the country, across the borders of different counties. They are known to use children, sometimes pre-teen, to move the drugs around or act as scouts or sellers in their area.
Albanian and Eritrean gangs
The security guard went on to describe members of "Albanian and Eritrean gangs [who] pick them [the migrant children] up in their BMWs and Audis and then they just vanish." The security guard reportedly told the Observer that he and colleagues had "raised the issue many times, but nothing much has changed."
The multi-agencies that Lord Murray mentioned in his address to the house of Lords reportedly met every fortnight, details the Observer. Home Office officials were also present at these meetings, as well as police officers.
Although the Home Office told the Observer that "robust safeguarding procedures ensures all children in our care are as safe and supported as possible," sources told the newspaper that staff running the hotels were reporting the children missing and so the Home Office have been aware from the start of those going missing, and therefore gaps in their safeguarding procedures.
Some of those children may have run away to reunite with family or friends, says the Observer, but others have fallen into the hands of gangs and are all over the UK. One young Eritrean still at a hotel in the county of Kent told the Observer, "some men took them, I don’t know where they’ve gone but their phones are off. They picked them up over there," he says nodding to a quiet road not far from the seafront.
Also read: Channel migrants found working on cannabis farms in the UK
Victims of modern slavery?
Some of the missing children could now be victims of modern slavery, think police and organizations working with migrants. ECPAT UK which works to combat child human trafficking and slavery has carried out research into the issue and found that many of the children who go missing do so within days of arriving in hotel accommodation.
In August they published some of their findings and found that between July 2021 and June 2022 1,606 unacompanied children had arrived in the UK and been placed in hotel accommodation by the Home Office. 45 of those children, "some as young as 11, went missing over a ten-month period."
ECPAT said that in not assuming direct responsibility for these children, the Home Office is "breaching the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act of 2009, and the Children Act from 1989."
The Home Office has been calling the placement of children in hotels an "emergency measure" but back in August, ECPAT pointed out that it had been going on for two years and amounts to "negligence in corporate parenting duties and is void of respect for children’s rights."
Chief Executive of ECPAT UK Patricia Durr explains to France 24 what, in her opinion, is going wrong in the UK system.
Speaking to the Observer anonymously, experts working in child protection said that none of the authorities tried as hard to find the children as they might have had they been British. One person told the Observer, "With Albanians in particular, there was an acceptance they get trafficked."
Some say that is because there is a perception "they’ve gone deliberately to avoid immigration enforcement," the anonymous source told the Observer. Sussex police told the Observer that they conducted each investigation "impartially and without prejudice," and that they put the same resources into these cases as any other missing child case, especially if they can ascertain if the child is "vulnereable or could have been a victim."
The Home Office told the Guardian they were doing everything they could to ensure the "wellbeing of children in our care." However, ten months after, those who went missing in April are still nowhere to be found.
*Names were changed by The Observer for safeguarding reasons