Home Office officials arriving at their central London office this morning were greeted by a grim site.
Outside the Marsham St. headquarters of the government department responsible for, amongst other things, the safety and well being of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, activists left 200 missing children posters. The posters, alongside two larch missing poster signs, were placed by campaigners from activist group Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSMigrants) to demand that the government is held accountable for the disappearance of at least 200 migrant children from hotels on the south coast.
The Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick last week told Parliament that of the 4,600 unaccompanied asylum seeking children that had arrived in the country since 2021, 440 had gone missing. Only around half, he admitted had “been returned”. In a scandal that shadow home-secretary Yvette Cooper called a “dereliction of duty”, over 200 most Albanian children remain missing, with 13 of them under the age of 16.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavillion who asked an Urgent Question of Jenrick in the Commons following reports in the Observer newspaper accused the Home Office of “staggering complacency and incompetence”.
The majority of the children were thought to have been taken from hotels in Brighton on the south coast of England. Local Labour MP Peter Kyle alleged those being taken from hotels were being “coerced into crime”, pointing to an incident last year in which Sussex police pursued a car that had “collected two children from outside this hotel”. Speaking during the Urgent Question Kyle stated “When they [Sussex Police] managed to get the car to safety they released two child migrants and they arrested one of the members who was driving it – who was a gang leader who was there to coerce the children into crime.”
In reaction to the revelations over 150 local councillors from across the UK and from various political parties are calling on the government to stop outsourcing asylum accommodation to for-profit companies, and instead ensure that local authorities can provide good quality accommodation for people seeking sanctuary.
Councillor Doctor Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini of the Migrant Champions Network, the organisation supporting the letter, said, “The fact is that communities up and down the country want to stand in solidarity with people seeking sanctuary, and provide them a warm welcome. And it’s clear that councillors from across the country are equally committed to making sure that people arriving here have the support they need.
“But decisions taken by central government too often make that impossible. We hope that the government will listen to the voices of these councillors, and equip local communities to provide a warm welcome, instead of pursuing an agenda of hostility and division, and lining the pockets of private companies.”
Sam Björn, a spokesperson for LGSMigrants, the organisation responsible for this morning’s action said “Children have been racially abused and threatened with violence for over a year in Home Office hotels and this government is only now admitting that hundreds of children in their care have gone missing. This is state-sanctioned violence.
“While officials will try to shrug off responsibility, we say this government can and must keep migrant children safe. Today we demand an end to the Hostile Environment, safe passage for all asylum seekers and justice for these missing children.” The Home Office were approached for comment.
Ben Smoke is Huck’s Commissioning Editor. Follow him on Twitter.