• Charities including NSPCC, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, ECPAT UK and the Refugee Council have written to the Prime Minister
  • Hundreds of children have gone missing from hotels and are suspected of being trafficked and exploited
  • The Home Office is unlawfully housing separated children in unsafe hotels, where they could be targeted by criminals

Over 100 charities from the refugee and children’s sectors have written to the Prime Minister today to express their grave concern about separated children seeking asylum going missing from Home Office hotels. The children are suspected of being exploited and are accommodated outside of the UK’s child welfare framework which applies to all children, regardless of their immigration status.

In the open letter coordinated by ECPAT UK and the Refugee Council, charities including major UK children’s charities NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Action for Children, Coram, The Children’s Society and National Children’s Bureau, are calling for the Home Office to stop accommodating separated children in hotels with no further delays. They are also calling for children to be cared for by local authority children’s social care, according to the law and with all the safeguards that brings, including having OFSTED oversight, and for an urgent independent inquiry:

We request the end to this practice immediately with a commitment to an end date after which these practices will not be revived and an urgent independent inquiry given these significant matters of public concern following the reported failures to protect vulnerable children from harm.

The charities have denounced the continued use of unsafe hotels by the Home Office to accommodate separated children, arguing the practice is unlawful and harmful:

There is no legal basis for placing children in Home Office hotel accommodation and almost two years into the operation of the scheme which is both unlawful and harmful, it is no longer possible to justify the use of hotels as being ‘temporary’. It is a significant departure from the Children Act 1989 and established standards.

Charities have previously issued multiple warnings to Ministers and government departments about the dangers of the Home Office accommodating children in these hotels. The latest revelations of children going missing surfaced last weekend, with over 100 children found to have been reported missing from a single Sussex hotel, with 79 who remain missing. The government confirmed that there were 440 occurrences of children having gone missing from hotels, and 200 children have never been found.

 The letter highlights the government’s continued failure to end the harmful practice:

While the use of hotels for separated children was initially characterised by the Home Office as an “emergency” measure to be operated for “the very shortest of periods”, it has continued for some 18 months. Notwithstanding the unlawfulness of the practice and the hundreds of children that have gone missing and/or been abducted, the Home Office has repeatedly failed to commit to an end date for housing children in this way – despite a recommendation from the ICIBI in October 2022 to end these practices within six months.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:

“We know from our work that children who have experienced unimaginable horror and upheaval coming to our country in search of safety are highly traumatised and vulnerable. Government has a very clear legal duty to protect them but is failing to do so with the equivalent of several classrooms of children seemingly having disappeared into the clutches of those who will exploit and abuse them. This is a child protection scandal that councils the police and ministers must urgently address to ensure every single separated child matters and is kept safe.”

 Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking), said:

“This is a national child protection failure - the shocking but inevitable consequence of the Home Office practice of directly accommodating separated children outside of the law. The Home Office has no authority, power or expertise in the care and protection of children.

“Despite evidence of the risks and numerous representations, the government has ignored the warnings and is yet to commit to an exit strategy, seeming to prefer to entrench this discriminatory approach to some of the most vulnerable children with the greatest need of protection and care.

“We need an urgent commitment to end this practice immediately and to ensure that separated children are cared for and protected as all other children within our legal and well-established child welfare framework.  Rather than setting up separate provision, the government must provide local authorities with sufficient funds to properly fulfil their legal duties to children.”


 Notes to editors: