The Home Office is not permitted to routinely assign unaccompanied minors to asylum hotels.

According to a high court order, hotels can only be used for very short periods “in true emergency situations.” The Home Office has been prohibited from accommodating lone asylum seeker children in hotels, except in limited emergency circumstances. This ruling comes after a long-running high court case, declaring the home secretary’s routine and systematic placement of these children in hotels as unlawful. Since December 2021, this practice has been deemed to have exceeded the proper limits of his powers.

Some of the children placed in hotels were as young as 12 and had recently arrived in the UK after traumatic journeys across the Channel in small boats. The Observer uncovered the news that children were being placed in hotels, where some subsequently went missing, with some falling into the hands of traffickers, within 72 hours of arriving in the UK.

Since June 2021, 440 children have gone missing from asylum hotels. Out of these, 132 children remain unfound, while 103 have now reached the age of 18. Kent county council was found to have failed in discharging its duties towards some of these children under the Children Act. However, the court order holds the home secretary partly responsible for this failure as well, due to the lack of an efficient plan utilizing the national transfer scheme to eliminate the use of hotels and share responsibilities among different local authorities.

The high court action, along with the reduction in small boat crossings, has led to improvements in the situation of accommodating children in hotels. Since 18 November, the Home Office has not accommodated any children in hotels and has ceased using six out of seven previously utilized hotels for this group. There is still one hotel open in Kent, but it is set to close by 31 January 2024.

According to the court order, hotels should only be used by the home secretary to accommodate these children in “true emergency situations” and for very short periods. They should not be used as a substitute for local authority care.

Patricia Durr, the chief executive of Ecpat, expressed satisfaction with the high court order, highlighting how thousands of children have been denied care based on their immigration status and the risk of significant harm that many still face. Roger Gough, the leader of Kent county council, stated that the Home Office must urgently review the national transfer scheme and come up with an effective plan to facilitate prompt transfers of these children out of Kent and into the care of other UK local authorities.

A spokesperson from the Home Office emphasized that the safety and welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children remain a top priority, and that providing care placements for them is a national issue requiring collaboration with local authorities across the UK. They stated that they are carefully considering the judgment and will continue working with local authorities to fulfill their statutory duties.

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