In a landmark judgment issued today, the High Court has delivered a significant victory for children’s rights. The court found that both the Home Office and Kent County Council had acted unlawfully in their treatment of separated children seeking asylum.
The successful outcome of a judicial review challenge, initiated by ECPAT UK, firmly established that the Home Office’s use of hotels to accommodate separated children seeking asylum, and Kent County Council’s withdrawal of support they are obligated to provide under the Children Act 1989, were in breach of the law. Instead, these vulnerable children should be placed in the care of a Local Authority, as mandated by Section 20 of the Children Act, which requires the provision of appropriate accommodation and care.
This momentous decision marks the culmination of years of dedicated efforts by various charities, including the Refugee Council, to ensure legal compliance and robust protection for this vulnerable group of children. The court has emphatically affirmed that all separated children are entitled to the full rights and protections accorded by the Children Act, regardless of their immigration status. The court emphasised the paramount importance of securing the safety and welfare of unaccompanied children, a fundamental duty which in the United Kingdom, rests upon the shoulders of local authorities.
Throughout the legal proceedings, it became evident that the agreement between KCC and the Home Office established a problematic two-tier system, endangering the well-being of these children. The Home Office acknowledged that 154 children remain missing, some as young as 14 and 12 years old, and their whereabouts are unknown. Neither the Home Office nor KCC can confirm the safety of these children, and tragically, some of those previously unaccounted for were found to have fallen victim to exploitation by criminal gangs.
As the Refugee Council, we remain steadfast in our commitment to advocating for the rights of children seeking asylum, and we will continue to press the Government to fulfill its legal obligations, ensuring the safety and security of these children who have already endured so much so they can rebuild their lives in the UK.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said the following about the judgment:
“It is a landmark day for children’s rights. The court has confirmed that there can be no exceptions when the rights of vulnerable children are concerned. The Government should do everything in its power to ensure these children are safe and in the care of Local Authorities.
“Most importantly, we are still waiting to hear what is happening to the 154 children who are still missing. There can be no compromise when it comes to children’s safety and welfare, and we hope the Government will take the necessary steps to find the missing children and ensure they are safe.”