UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers

LONDON: Charities and campaigners have called for a public inquiry into the treatment of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK, the BBC reported on Monday.

At one point, the Home Office contracted seven hotels to provide temporary accommodation for children while foster care placements were being arranged with local authorities. According to a recently published official report, however, basic checks to ensure unaccompanied children were being kept safe in these hotels were not carried out.

The report, by the former chief inspector of borders, David Neal, and published by the Home Office last week, also revealed a particularly disturbing practice in which a team leader would have children take part in a guessing game to find out who had received a place in foster care.

Inspectors described the practice as “insensitive in the extreme and undoubtedly upsetting to the children.” They noted that it was not widely adopted but nor was it internally questioned when it was.

Eighteen organizations, including the Refugee Council and the British Association of Social Workers, have now signed an open letter in which they highlight this “appalling revelation” that some children were forced to play a game to guess which of them had been allocated a foster home. They described the wider findings of the report as “disturbing, distressing and dystopian.”

The letter also said that hundreds of unaccompanied children who have gone missing from hotels have yet to be found, and that children incorrectly assessed as being of adult age were forced to share bedrooms with grown-up strangers.

The signatories called for an extensive independent investigation into the treatment of asylum seekers aged 17 and younger.

“In our work with refugee children, we repeatedly see how they are being failed… There is a culture of callous disregard for children’s basic right to dignity,” they said in their letter.

“We urgently need to see a fundamental change towards an asylum system that is fair, humane and protects those who are some of the most vulnerable children in the country.”

The Home Office said the welfare of the children was of “utmost priority.” A full investigation into the “inappropriate behavior” of the worker responsible for the guessing game has been launched, it added, and he was removed from his position as soon as his actions were revealed. It also said hotels are no longer used to house child refugees, the BBC reported.

The report was based on inspections of two hotels in Kent that took place in September 2023.

It stated: “Inspectors found that two years on from when the Home Office first moved children into hotels, it was still grappling with the challenges of managing an operation that was only ever envisaged to provide a short-term solution.”

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