LONDON — Opposition parties and children’s advocates on Tuesday accused the UK government of putting vulnerable youngsters at risk, after authorities said dozens of children arrived in Britain as asylum seekers had disappeared.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick told lawmakers that more than 200 children and teenagers under the age of 18 had disappeared from government-approved housing. He said most were teenagers from Albania.
Labor Party lawmaker Peter Kyle said 76 children went missing from a hotel in the south coast seaside town of Brighton, one of several towns across the country where unaccompanied children are temporarily housed.
The Observer The newspaper this week quoted child protection sources and an unidentified whistleblower working for a government contractor as saying dozens of youngsters were abducted from the street outside a Brighton hotel and herded into cars.
“The uncomfortable truth for us is that if a child who was linked to one of us in this room disappeared, the world would stop,” Kyle told the House of Commons. “But in the community I represent, one child went missing, then five went missing, then a dozen went missing, then 50 went missing and today 76 are missing and nothing is happening.”
Labour’s immigration spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, accused the government of a “total neglect of duty which puts children at risk”.
Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said reports of children going missing from hotels “have highlighted, once again, the vulnerability of these children, who are in limbo, with a concerted group of people determined to exploit them”.
“I am concerned for the safety of this group of children whose vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that they do not speak English, many of whom have no support network and are unaware of their rights,” he said. she said in a letter to the Home Office.
Jenrick said security guards, nurses and social workers were all based in hotels to keep children safe.
But he acknowledged that “we do not have the authority to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in these facilities and we know that some are missing”.
“Many of those who disappeared are later found and located,” he said.
Jenrick said he had not seen evidence of child abductions from the streets, but promised to investigate further.
“I’m not going to drop the case,” he said.
While Britain is receiving fewer asylum seekers than European countries including Italy, Germany and France, there has been a surge in the number of people trying to reach the UK in small boats across the English Channel. More than 45,000 people arrived in Britain across the Channel in 2022, and several died in the attempt.
The government has pledged to stop risky travel, so far without success.