The United Kingdom must ensure that all children seeking asylum are properly protected and put an end to the Government policy of placing unaccompanied youngsters in hotels, where hundreds have reportedly gone missing since mid-2021, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts said on today.
“We are deeply concerned at reports that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are going missing and are at high risk of being trafficked within the UK,” the three experts, or Special Rapporteurs, said in a statement.
Local authority responsibility
They said that instead of being housed in hotels, children should be placed in the care of local authorities, where they can be properly looked after.
“The current policy of placing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels places them outside of the UK child protection system and is discriminatory,” they added, noting that failures and gaps in child protection heighten risks of trafficking.
They stressed the urgent need to trace the missing children, and to provide human rights-compliant reception conditions and protection, for unaccompanied children seeking asylum – without discrimination on grounds of nationality, migration status, race, ethnicity and gender.
“The UK Government appears to be failing to abide by its core obligations under international human rights law”, the experts said.
Hundreds still unaccounted for
They noted reports that 4,600 unaccompanied children have been housed in six hotels since June 2021, and that 440 of them had disappeared. Some 220 remained unaccounted for as of 23 January this year, the majority of whom were Albanian nationals.
“The practice has allegedly developed in a climate of increasing hostility towards victims of trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants,” the Human Rights Council-appointed experts said.
Some Members of Parliament have reportedly been critical of victims of trafficking seeking protection under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act and the National Referral Mechanism, undermining the Government’s obligation to protect victims and prevent them from being potentially trafficked.
The experts added that they have been in contact with the UK Government regarding their serious concerns.
Special Rapporteurs and other independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. They monitor and report on specific country situations or thematic issues.
They are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work.