Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are a population rendered vulnerable by the trauma of being forced to flee their homes and separated from their families and care givers. Many have experienced physical and sexual violence, persecution, torture, human rights abuses, and extreme poverty. Their migration journeys may have exposed them to exploitation, human trafficking and modern slavery. On arrival to the UK these children should be provided with the care and protection they both need and are legally entitled to. Safeguarding these children from harm and promotion of their wellbeing should be the Home Office’s priority – indeed it is their statutory duty.
The UK is a signatory state to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child and therefore has a responsibility to uphold the child’s right to protection, health, and education. The Borders, Citizenship, and Immigration Act 2009 demands that the Home Office carry out its responsibilities in a manner that accounts for the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK and the safeguarding responsibilities of providers contracted by the Home Office are clear. Furthermore, by law unaccompanied children are children ‘in need’ and should be in the care of local authorities. It is unacceptable that at-risk children and young people are falling through the cracks of a broken system unable to take responsibility and meet statutory duties.
Despite the undeniable legal duty of care, the Home Office has systematically failed unaccompanied asylum-seeking children housed in hotels in the south of England. Thousands of unaccompanied children have been placed in hotel accommodation since July 2021, despite repeated calls from charities, advocacy groups and child health professionals to end this practice due to the associated safeguarding risks and health harms. An inspection of the use of hotels for housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children carried out March-May 2022 and published in October 2022 found that two of the four hotels inspected had staff living onsite who had not been Disclosure and Barring Service cleared. The report recommended that “a viable and sustainable exit strategy from the use of hotels” be delivered within 6 months – yet the government has not issued a planned end date to this practice. This is despite alarming witness accounts of children being abducted off the street outside of hotels by criminal gangs. Ten percent of the 4600 children housed in hotels since 2021 have been reported missing and 200 remain missing. These missing children are at high risk of abuse, exploitation and trafficking. The government is complicit in the ongoing traumatisation and exploitation of unaccompanied children seeking sanctuary on its shores if it fails to deliver on its safeguarding duties and take urgent action in response to missing children reports.
We are calling on the UK Government to:
- Stop accommodating unaccompanied children in hotels with immediate effect
- Provide adequate ring-fenced funding to local authorities so they can deliver on their safeguarding duties to children and young people, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
- Adhere to the national legal frameworks in place to safeguard all children irrespective of immigration status
- Ensure that all policy and practice associated with the National Transfer Scheme and accommodation of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have safeguarding as their core concern and are both child-centred and trauma-informed
- Launch an independent inquiry into the cases of missing children in Home Office funded hotels
Action you can take
The ICHG has put together a template letter to send to your MP to highlight these concerns.
 Samuel M. 200 unaccompanied children still missing after disappearing from Home Office hotels. Community Care 23 Jan 23. https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2023/01/23/200-unaccompanied-children-still-missing-after-disappearing-from-home-office-hotels/
 Townsend M. Revealed: scores of child asylum seekers kidnapped from Home Office hotel. Guardian 21 Jan 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/jan/21/revealed-scores-of-child-asylum-seekers-kidnapped-from-home-office-hotel
 Neal D. An inspection of the use of hotels for housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) 2022. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1111982/An_inspection_of_the_use_of_hotels_for_housing_unaccompanied_asylum-seeking_children__UASC__March_to_May_2022.pdf
 Stevens A & Sivasathiaseelan D. Safeguarding asylum-seeking children housed in contingency accommodation is everyone’s responsibility. BMJ 2022; 378 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o1911
 The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Convention on the Rights of the Child. 1989. https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-child
 Borders, Citizenship, and Immigration Act 2009. 2009. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2009/11/section/55
 Doctors of the World UK. Asylum seeking children housed in initial accommodation centres (IACs) and contingency accommodation across England: a briefing on safeguarding, healthcare and education provision. Mar 2022. https://www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Asylum-Seeking-Children-in-IACs-Contingency-Accomodation-Final.pdf
 Children Act 1989. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/contents