A nine-year-old child is the youngest unaccompanied migrant to be accommodated in a hotel by Home Office officials after crossing the Channel and arriving in England, a High Court judge has been told.
Mr Justice Johnson heard that a “high proportion” of asylum-seekers initially accommodated in hotels are unaccompanied children under 16.
He was given Home Office figures while overseeing a preliminary hearing in a High Court case about on the use of a hotel to house unaccompanied children, involving the government department and Brighton and Hove City Council.
The council is challenging a Home Office plan to reuse a hotel in Hove from which migrant children have previously gone missing.
The council has taken legal action against the Home Secretary Suella Braverman and wants a judge to rule that the hotel should not be used.
It said that children could be targeted by criminals and abusers.
Mr Justice Johnson was told that the Home Office had stopped using the hotel but was planning to use it again.
A trial is expected to take place later this summer.
Mr Justice Johnson heard that Kent County Council and a children’s rights organisation were planning similar legal action relating to the accommodation of unaccompanied migrant children in hotels.
He heard that both councils – Brighton and Hove and Kent – were concerned that the placement of unaccompanied migrant children in hotels puts them in a position where they are breaching, or would breach, their legal obligations relating to the care of youngsters.
The judge indicated that all three cases might be considered together.
He asked a barrister leading the Home Office legal team the age of the youngest child to be initially accommodated in a hotel.
Lisa Giovannetti told him that the youngest had been nine.
Mr Justice Johnson asked: “You have put a nine-year-old child in a hotel?”
Miss Giovannetti indicated that the child had been in a hotel for 24 hours before moving to more suitable accommodation.
The judge then asked how many “under 16-year-olds” have been accommodated in a hotel for more than 48 hours.
Miss Giovanetti said: “Quite a high proportion are under 16. Maybe 40 per cent.”
Stephanie Harrison, representing Brighton and Hove City Council, told the judge: “Children who are under 16 who are not in accommodation that is regulated – it is not only unlawful, it is a criminal offence. That encompasses the gravity of the situation.”
Kent council’s barrister Hugh Southey told Mr Justice Johnson: “Some local authorities are trying to do all they can to comply with their obligations.
“They are attempting to accommodate more children than they are obliged to – Kent is one of them. Other local authorities are not. They are taking trivial numbers of children.”