On Wednesday 7 June, MPs debated the issue of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children being accommodated in Home Office-run hotels. These hotels have been in operation since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in Summer 2021 which saw an increase in arrivals to the UK and pressure on the asylum system. While they were intended to be a temporary measure, they continue to be in operation and over 4,500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, some as young as 10, have been placed in hotels since June 2021.
There is well-documented evidence to highlight the poor treatment of children in these hotels, with severe safeguarding and wellbeing concerns. Minister for Immigration Robert Jenrick made a statement to the House of Commons in January this year stating that over 200 unaccompanied children housed in hotels have gone missing. This appalling fact, the lack of progress in locating these children and provisions in the Illegal Migration Bill were the key focuses of the debate.
Opening, sponsor Deidre Brock MP cited our Impact Report on the Bill, which highlighted that up to 45,000 children could be affected by the provisions in the first three years. They will be deemed inadmissible and will not have their asylum claim heard, and risk being left housed in unsuitable accommodation including hotels if they cannot be returned to their home country or removed to a third country. Deidre Brock MP shared powerful anecdotes from people with lived experience of living in hotels, with distressing accounts of the fear and anxiety felt by children. She shared the story of one girl who feared the Home Office would kill her for being unmarried and pregnant. Children are often left frightened, lonely and at risk of exploitation.
It was reiterated: under the Children Act 1989, children under 16 should be placed in regulated accommodation and all children under 18 need to be in the care of local authorities; as such, the hotels are operating illegally. Several MPs including Tulip Siddiq, Alison Thewliss and Caroline Lucas raised the urgent need for answers over the 200+ children who have gone missing from Home Office hotels. A letter written to Government in January signed by the Refugee Council and over 100 charities was cited, as was the Children’s Commissioner’s letter to Government dated 5 April which sought urgent answers on the number of children who have been accommodated by the Home Office in hotels and the treatment of children.
Despite confirming that no unaccompanied asylum seeking children are currently in Home Office run hotel accommodation, Minister Robert Jenrick gave insufficient answers to other questions asked. He did not give sufficient assurances that the Missing Persons Protocol was followed and did not address concerns raised regarding provisions in the Illegal Migration Bill which will expand Home Secretary’s powers in accommodating unaccompanied asylum seeking children. The forthcoming appearance of the Home Secretary at the Home Affairs Select Committee provides another important opportunity to press Government on the treatment of refugee children. ■
Thank you to all MPs who attended and spoke, in particular to Deidre Brock MP for leading the debate.