Labour has called for an urgent investigation into dozens of missing refugee children who have disappeared from a hotel in Hove.
The call came from the MP for Hove, Peter Kyle, the MP for Brighton Kemptown, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, and the Labour group on Brighton and Hove City Council.
They said that they “hope the news of widespread kidnapping and trafficking of children from a run-down Hove ‘hotel’ between July 2021 and the present day will finally result in an investigation and the ending of the practice of housing children in hotels”.
Labour said that 136 children had gone missing and 79 remained unaccounted for.
A statement from the party also said: “According to a recent FoI (freedom of information) response, children are being placed in these ‘hotels’ alone for approximately 16 days before being moved to foster placements around the country – if they haven’t been groomed or kidnapped first.
“Labour have repeatedly warned the Home Office, local Green administration and council chief executive that the existence of a ‘hotel’ housing unaccompanied children seeking asylum is unlawful and would attract serious organised criminals intent on exploitation. (To read the Greens’ response, click here.)
“As recently as earlier this month the administration at Brighton and Hove City Council claimed the ‘hotel’ was not being targeted by serious crime and that children were leaving of their own accord.
“Now, based on corroborated whistle-blower testimony, as published by The Observer, the administration’s claims are demonstrably false.
“The Home Office and council leadership are both denying corporate responsibility for these children and as a result of this mutual buck-passing they have jointly overseen industrial-scale child neglect.
“The Home Office is moving children into the local authority area wholly outside of the law.
“The National Transfer Scheme (NTS) was established to ensure children could be swiftly placed in appropriate foster care settings immediately on arrival in the UK.
“And the Home Secretary’s failure to enforce its mandatory requirements has triggered the creation of what amount to unregistered children’s homes, with no safeguarding in place.
“We call for this unlawful transfer process to be ended immediately, for all children currently in ‘hotels’ to be urgently transferred to foster placements through the NTS and for all ‘hotels’ accommodating unaccompanied children to be closed with immediate effect.
“Primary legislation requires that local authorities take responsibility for the welfare and safeguarding of all children within their area irrespective of how they arrived there.
“The city’s leadership has abdicated its statutory responsibilities to the missing children and we call for the resignation of the leader and deputy leader of the council and for a full inquiry into the role of the Home Office, the council and the police in this safeguarding catastrophe.
“Labour in Brighton and Hove support Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, in describing these revelations as ‘truly appalling and scandalous’ and calling on the government to reveal how many children had disappeared and what was being done to find them.”
Yvette Cooper said: “Suella Braverman (the Home Secretary) has failed to act on the repeated warnings she has been given about totally inadequate safeguards for children in their care.
“It is a total dereliction of duty for the Home Office to so badly fail to protect child safety or crack down on the dangerous gangs putting them in terrible risk. Ministers must urgently put new protection arrangements in place.”
The Observer said: “When asked to comment, Brighton and Hove City Council, which traditionally cares for child asylum-seekers when they arrive in the UK without parents or guardians, referred queries on criminals targeting children to the police.
“Sussex Police said queries on criminals targeting the children should be addressed to the Home Office.
“The Home Office said: ‘Local authorities have a statutory duty to protect all children, regardless of where they go missing from. In the concerning occasion when a child goes missing, they work closely with other local agencies, including the police, to urgently establish their whereabouts and ensure they are safe.
“‘We have robust safeguarding procedures in place to ensure all children in our care are as safe and supported as possible as we seek urgent placements with a local authority.’”
The Observer also quoted the council as saying: “We have been actively involved when any child is reported missing and have worked with the police and other agencies to try to trace them.”
Catherine Hankinson, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for missing persons, was quoted by the Observer as saying: “Regular multi-agency meetings by police reviewed the response to every missing migrant child who had not been located.”
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