A special meeting to discuss missing asylum-seeking children became a heated battle between Greens and Labour councillors over whether enough had been done to protect teens housed in a Hove hotel.
Labour councillor Bella Sankey called for the extraordinary meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council after it emerged that at least 136 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children had gone missing from Hove since July 2021.
Councillor Sankey wanted the council to commission expert legal opinion on its obligations under the Children Act 1989 and its options for closing the hotel and rehousing those staying there.
She called for a “child safeguarding practice review panel” to investigate the council’s role in the disappearance of the children, including all safeguarding acts and omissions.
And afterwards she joined a protest outside Brighton Town Hall.
She told fellow councillors: “Some of the trafficked children were followed by police in real time and rescued from the motorway as part of a criminal human trafficking investigation which is still ongoing.
“But real-time intelligence is rare. Several other children have been arrested in classic trafficking scenarios – county lines operations and cannabis farms.
“Children taken from the hotel in Hove have been found in 18 other police force areas, including Cheetham Hill, in Greater Manchester.
“Neil Blackwood, the detective running Operation Vulcan in Cheetham Hill, said that intelligence confirmed the hotel network used to house asylum-seekers was targeted by serious organised crime.”
During the rancorous debate today (Thursday 2 March), the Greens amended the motion, removing the request to instruct an expert in public, immigration, asylum and human rights law on the council’s legal obligations.
And rather than a child safeguarding review to investigate the council’s role, the Green amendment – voted through with support from Conservative councillors – called on the council’s chief executive Geoff Raw to write to the Home Secretary.
The chief executive is being asked to request a formal published response to Brighton and Hove Safeguarding Children Partnership’s “scrutiny paper” published on Tuesday (28 February).
Councillor Sankey criticised the Greens’ amendment, saying: “I’m stunned and deeply frustrated that this is being proposed and going to get carried with Tory votes.
“Our motion was not meant to be controversial. I drafted it with the Green group in mind in such a way that they could vote for it.
“Your (Green) amendment dilutes our call for transparent tangible legal action, kicking the can down the road and promising more of the same – pointless letters to government ministers.”
Green councillor Zoe John said that the “scrutiny paper” had said that the council could not take responsibility for young people housed by the Home Office.
The hotel was empty now but the Home Office could house more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children there at any time.
Should young people be targeted by organised crime, Councillor John said that people should report it through the appropriate channels.
She said that the council had sought expert legal advice and was liaising with other councils serving areas with Home Office hotels.
In an emotionally charged speech, Councillor John said: “It’s unthinkable for many of us but, whether due to war, economic circumstances, family or health, displacement can impact anyone.
“As the climate crisis worsens, more and more people will be forced to take this option.
“To think of children, and let’s not forget there are children at the heart of our time here, to think of children doing this on their own.
“Or to be the parent sending your children off on their own, knowing what they might face, but thinking that it is safer than staying at home, is something I wish no one ever had to face.
“We are extremely concerned and fully condemn the hate rhetoric and aggressive protests that are happening across the country and fear for those here.
“And we applaud anyone fighting for the rights of these children to be able to have safe passage to sanctuary and to be housed.”
Councillors voted for a report to be presented to a future meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee outlining the Home Office’s responsibiity and the council’s abilities to
- close down the hotel to unaccompanied children seeking asylum
- desist from moving any more unaccompanied children into the city outside of the statutory National Transfer Scheme
- achieve the immediate placement of children accommodated at the hotel into local authority care placements across the country through the National Transfer Scheme