LONDON: Around one lone refugee child went missing from unregulated government hotels every week in the second half of 2021, The Independent reported on Tuesday.
Last year, 16 children disappeared from hotels housing arrivals in the Channel in just five months.
Four others disappeared in a week at the end of November, according to recently revealed figures. Half of these children have not been found.
Many unaccompanied children crossing the Channel and arriving in the UK are placed in what is described as ‘inappropriate’ hotel accommodation, which experts say could put them at risk of abuse or exploitation .
It’s unclear where the missing children are from, but the government’s latest figures on the ethnicities of refugees arriving in Britain via the English Channel show Iranians make up the majority, followed by Iraqis, Syrians and Afghans .
According to The Independent, hundreds of unaccompanied children are staying in five hotels in southern England.
Dozens of them are under 14 and a small number of unaccompanied minors are under 10.
Data obtained under freedom of information laws revealed that 16 minors disappeared from these hotels between July 20 and November 25, or about one per week. Four others disappeared from November 25 to December 2. While 10 of them were found later, 10 others are still missing.
“After surviving unimaginable dangers to travel here, these children should have finally felt safe and protected,” Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, told The Independent.
“Instead, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, ignored all warnings that these hotels were unsuitable for children and must now take action to find these missing children before it’s too late. “
Elaine Ortiz, founder of the Hummingbird Refugee Project, warned that some of the children could go missing in order to pay off ‘debts’ accrued on their journey to the UK.
During her work in the French town of Calais, she said she witnessed how children were exploited by some adults.
“We have seen the level of exploitation of children and young people in Calais by smugglers and gangs,” she added.
“We have also heard of harassment and violence against young people by gang members in order to pay their “debts”. I think this may contribute to why children are going missing in the UK.
The Refugee Council has said it will end its agreement with the government to provide counseling and support for unaccompanied children in hotels as it does not believe the long-term use of hotels for refugee children” meets their needs or is appropriate”.
The council added: “These are very vulnerable and traumatized children who have already faced terrible experiences and are at risk of being neglected or, worse still, exploited unless every step is taken to ensure their safety”.
A government spokesperson said it takes the issue of a child’s disappearance “extremely seriously” and works “closely” with local authorities to ensure vulnerable children are “supported in a meaningful way”. appropriate”.