The Home Office has located 13 of 200 missing asylum seeker children since January despite a pledge to work “around the clock” to find them, i can reveal.
In January, the Government disclosed that 200 unaccompanied children who had sought asylum in the UK were missing after a whistleblower raised concerns about human trafficking at hotels where they were being housed.
Home Office Minister Robert Jenrick said that the disappearances were “extremely concerning” in a statement in Parliament.
In response to queries from i, a Government spokesperson said on Tuesday that there were 191 child asylum seekers missing as of the end of February. Since Mr Jenrick’s statement in January, four more children have disappeared, and in total, thirteen children have been located.
The Home Office said that every missing persons case is “extremely serious” and that the Government was working “around the clock” with police and councils to locate the children.
Revelations over the number of missing migrant children followed an Observer investigation detailing concerns from a Mitie security guard that unaccompanied children were being picked up from outside a Brighton hotel housing asylum seekers, and that similar incidents occurred at a separate hotel site in Kent.
The whistleblower said: “Children are literally being picked up from outside the building, disappearing and not being found. They’re being taken from the street by traffickers.”
At the time, Home Secretary Suella Braverman faced criticism from Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza, who said she was “deeply concerned” over the reports.
Politicians and camapaigners have raised concerns over the lack of progress in tracking down these children.
Caitlin Boswell of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants told i: “Every child deserves safety and protection, but this government has clearly been neglecting its duty of care towards hundreds of asylum-seeking children.
She said it was “both astonishing and appalling” to hear how few of the 200 children who recently went missing from asylum housing have so far been found.
“It’s likely that many of the minors who went missing have been pushed into modern slavery and terrible abuse at the hands of their traffickers,” she said.
“The lack of effort shown by this government in finding the children shows they are more interested in demonising people seeking safety here, than safeguarding children from trafficking and abuse”.
Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP told i: “It’s disgraceful and shameful that under this Conservative government’s watch, nearly 200 minors seeking asylum in the UK are currently missing without a trace.
“Things have been going at such a slow pace that only 13 have been found since January. As a matter of national security and basic human decency, the Government must get a grip and ensure that those in Home Office accommodation, especially children, are protected.”
Meanwhile, a children’s charity has brought legal action against the Home Office to prevent housing of child asylum seekers in hotels.
Article 39, with assistance from the Good Law Project has brought the case to end the protocol, which was initially brought in by former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson in 2021 as an “emergency measure”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Due to the rise in dangerous small boats crossings, the government has had no alternative but to urgently use hotels to give unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in the UK a roof over their heads.
“The wellbeing of children and minors in our care is an absolute priority and there is 24/7 security at every hotel used to accommodate them. When a child goes missing, a multi-agency, missing persons protocol is mobilised, alongside the police and local authorities, to establish their whereabouts and ensure they are safe.”