Hundreds of child asylum-seekers have disappeared from government-approved accommodations in Britain within the last two years, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said Tuesday. The unaccompanied minors were housed in contracted hotels as the usual asylum accommodation system was overwhelmed. "Out of the 4,600 unaccompanied children that have been accommodated in hotels since July 2021, there have been 440 missing occurrences and 200 children still remain missing," including 13 children under the age of 16, Jenrick told Parliament, per CNN. He spoke days after the Observer reported that "gangs" had kidnapped "dozens" of asylum-seeking children from a hotel in Brighton.
Lawmaker Peter Kyle of the opposition Labour Party said 76 children had vanished from the hotel, per the AP. Labour's immigration spokesperson Yvette Cooper said children were being seized by gangs of organized criminals who "trafficked them here in the first place," per CNN. The Home Office denied the report. Jenrick said the government has "no power to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children," who are free to come and go, though security guards, nurses, and social workers are on hand, and records of children leaving and returning are kept and monitored, per Reuters and the AP. A rep for the Home Office added that when a child vanishes, "local authorities work closely with agencies, including the police, to urgently establish their whereabouts," per CNN.
"Many of those who have gone missing are subsequently traced and located," Jenrick told Parliament. Still, groups are calling for an investigation. It is "scandalous that children who have come to this country to ask for safety are being put in harm's way," the charity Refugee Action said Monday. Children's Commissioner for England Rachel de Souza wrote to the Home Office, per the AP, saying, "I am concerned for the safety of this group of children whose vulnerability is exacerbated by not speaking English, many of whom have no support network and are not aware of their rights." Some 88% are said to be Albanian nationals, with the rest hailing from Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Vietnam, Pakistan and Turkey. (Read more United Kingdom stories.)