Hundreds of lone child refugees have been housed in Home Office hotel accommodation branded “unacceptable” by Ofsted despite ministers pledging to end the practice last year, it has emerged.
The government has admitted to placing primary school aged children in these hotels, in spite of warnings that this form of accommodation places youngsters at risk of exploitation.
Children’s rights campaigners have said it is “unfathomable” that the Home Office continues to house children who have arrived to Britain alone and claimed asylum in accommodation that places them outside the protection of child welfare legislation.
The department began placing unaccompanied child asylum seekers in unregulated hotels on 20 July last year after Kent County Council refused to take more in, saying it was at “breaking point”. In October, Ofsted described this form of housing for children as “unacceptable”.
The Independent revealed in January 2022 that a child was going missing from hotels at a rate of one a week, fueling concerns that they are placed at risk of abuse and exploitation in these facilities.
On 23 November, ministers announced that changes were being made to the system for dispersing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children across the country, which they said would “end the use of hotels” for this group.
But data revealed by immigration minister Kevin Foster in response to a parliamentary question last week reveals that from this date until 22 February, 361 children were held in hotels, with a total of 1,251 placed in these facilities since 14 July.
The minister confirmed that as of 28 February there were currently four hotel sites in use for the purpose of housing asylum-seeking children. He said these were situated along the south coast in close proximity to “arrival locations”.
Mr Foster confirmed that of the children placed in hotels before between July and November, two were aged 10 or under. It is not known whether any under-11s have been placed in hotels since November.
Carolyne Willow, director at Article 39, which is currently pursuing a legal challenge against the Home Office over the use of hotels to house children, branded the figures “shocking and shameful”.
“The Children Act 1989 is meant to protect every child without discrimination, and local authorities are duty-bound to look after children who are without parents taking care of them,” she said.
“Yet here we have the Home Office putting hundreds of children into hotels, including two primary school-aged children, and effectively holding them outside the protection of child welfare legislation.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council – which ended an arrangement with the Home Office to provide support in these hotels in January because it did not agree that they should be used – said it was “not acceptable” that children were still being accommodated in hotels.
“Hotels are by no means appropriate for children who have fled war, persecution and violence and are often very traumatized. Every effort must be made by government to ensure all children are taken into the care of local authorities as a matter of urgency,” he said.
Patricia Durr, chief executive of Ecpat UK, which supports child trafficking victims, said no child should be placed outside of child protection systems, and pointed out that all unaccompanied children were likely to be at “significant risk” of being exploited and be “extremely vulnerable” due to the trauma they have endured.
“It is unfathomable this unlawful practice persists and that they are even accommodating extremely young children, including 10 year-olds, in these hotels,” she added.
Where the responsibility for these children lies remains unclear. The Home Office states that the local authority in which the hotels are placed hold responsibility for them, but local councils on the south coast have told The Independent the Home Office is responsible.
Mr Foster said in his parliamentary question response that placements with local authorities were being “vigorously pursued” via the now mandatory National Transfer Scheme (NTS), which sees child asylum seekers dispersed across the country and was made mandatory for all councils in November.
Philip Ishola, chief executive of child trafficking charity Love146, said the continued use of hotels was “deeply disturbing”, adding: “The plan for making the NTS mandatory included the claim that hotels would no longer be needed for separated children, yet their use you have continued.
“This is what happens when you place them outside of existing legal local authority child looked after and protection mechanisms, and effectively set up a rogue system under the Home Office.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.