Charities say over unaccompanied asylum seeker children in UK

Complaints come as local authorities given five working days instead of 10 to move unaccompanied children into care

Charities have accused ministers of doing too little, too late after the amount of time that unaccompanied asylum seeker children can be held in hotels was halved.

Following evidence that children as young as 11 seeking refuge in the UK were at risk of exploitation while held in temporary accommodation, local authorities have been given five working days instead of 10 to move them from hotels into care.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the move was an “unacceptable, serious failure” that leaves children outside the legal framework.

“As long as children are in hotels and deprived of the care which comes with having a corporate parent, they remain in a terrible situation in which it is unclear who is legally responsible for them,” he said.

“The agonising uncertainty of stays in unsuitable temporary hotel accommodation is very damaging for children who have fled war and violence.”

Daniel Sohege of the organisation Love146, which supports children exploited by trafficking, said: “Even before today’s announcement … we were seeing children staying in hotels for months on end. I’m not sure this announcement will make much difference to that. We welcome any move to improve things for children but this situation has been going on for far too long.”

The Home Office increased the use of hotels as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers at the start of the Covid pandemic, and again for the influx of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine.

As of the end of June, 355 unaccompanied child asylum seekers between the ages of 11 and 18 were being kept in hotels.

A freedom of information request submitted by the Every Child Protected Against Trafficking charity showed that 45 unaccompanied child asylum seekers went missing from hotels between June last year and the end of March.

The government claims to spend more than £5m a day accommodating asylum seekers and Afghan refugees in hotels, including children.

Wednesday’s announcement means that once a referral is made under the National Transfer Scheme councils will have five working days rather than 10 to transfer an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child from hotel accommodation to their care.

The government claims councils will receive new funding for each child of of £2,000 every month for the first three months to help them deliver the changes to the scheme – but only if they move an unaccompanied child asylum seeker from a hotel to a placement within five working days.

Kevin Foster, an immigration minister, said: “The government cannot deal with the impact of the rise in dangerous and illegal small boat crossings alone which is why I welcome the support from councils to help us reduce the cost of hotels and quickly move unaccompanied asylum-seeking children so they receive the care they need.

“Any council which moves a child from a hotel to their care under the new scheme will receive support funding of £6,000 per child for the first three months to give them the best possible start.”

A report by the UN Refugee Agency and British Red Cross warned that delays in asylum decisions were causing people to “take up offers of work in unsafe and exploitative conditions”.

It found evidence of “visible, large-scale accommodation in hostels, hotels and houses of multiple occupancy being targeted by traffickers”.

Another report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration said failures in the processing of people arriving on small boats meant that children and trafficking victims were not always being correctly identified.


Rajeev Syal and Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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