Westminster Hall Debate briefing on children in hotels – 6 June 20223.
Over the last few years, we have been observing an increase in people crossing the English Channel to seek asylum in the United Kingdom. In July 2021, Kent Local Authority decided to withdraw from supporting separated children arriving in Dover. With pressure mounting, it was decided to house children in hotels temporarily, pending their move to local authority care under the National Transfer Scheme (NTS). The hotels in South East England are managed by the Home Office and run by, among others, the agency contracted by the Home Office which is operated by Kent County Council.
The current practice operates outside of the legal framework for children’s care where children not cared for by their parents should be in the care of local authorities. There is no independent scrutiny by Ofsted into how these hotels operate, staff working with children were not DBS checked, children don’t have access to basic services, and as a result, 200 of them went missing from the hotels. The Home Office is unable to say what happened to them, and they are not registered with legal advisers and GPs. Furthermore, concerns arise from the fact that the Government has consistently been vague when stating what guidance was specifically followed to search for these children, raising doubts about whether the missing persons protocol has always been followed properly in relation to all these children.
Furthermore, the new Illegal Migration Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will mandate local authorities to provide information to the Home Secretary concerning children, and is set to exacerbate risks and barriers children seeking asylum already face. The Bill will undermine the Children Act 1989 by giving the Home Secretary new powers to provide accommodation and support to separated children. Such a move is potentially laying down the ground for not just legitimising the use of hotels but opening reception centres for separated children in the future, operated by the Home Office. The Home Secretary will be able to decide when a child ceases to be looked after and mandate the move of a child between local authorities as well as mandate local authorities to provide information to the Home Secretary concerning children in their care. Claims made by unaccompanied children will not be accepted into the UK system, children will be detained, and some could be removed from the UK before they turn 18 years old.
The analysis by Refugee Council, based on publicly available sources and using conservative estimates based on existing data, suggests that as many as 45,000 children could be detained in the UK under the plans. In the first three years of the legislation coming into effect, between 39,500 and 45,066 children will have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible. Between £8.7bn and £9.6bn will have been spent on detaining and accommodating people impacted by the Bill in the first three years of its operation. The data shows that most children arriving in the UK come from countries with very high grant rates for refugee status. They are forced to take dangerous journeys due to very limited options for safe routes to the UK. For unaccompanied children from Afghanistan, the grant rate is almost 100%, for Eritrea, it is 99% and for Sudan, it is 95%. Of all children who arrived alone and had their cases determined last year, nearly 9 out of 10 (86%) were permitted to stay and rebuild their lives in the UK.
Proposed changes will create a two-tier system, where some children are treated differently purely because of their mode of arrival to the United Kingdom. The background to the changes in the Illegal Migration Bill needs to be considered in the broader context of protecting children in the asylum system. As observed in the shadow NGO report on the UK implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, there has been a significant regression in rights and protections afforded to this group of children.
Children who experienced war, persecution, discrimination, and witnessed unimaginable horrors are being let down by the system which should protect them. The Government is failing in its duty to safeguard children and has no proper long-term plan for supporting unaccompanied children. The provisions within the new Illegal Migration Bill will change the asylum system and child protection framework in an unprecedented way.