UK: Protect unaccompanied children seeking asylum say UN experts

Geneva, 11 April 2023.- The United Kingdom must ensure the protection of all children seeking asylum without discrimination and put an end to the practice of placing unaccompanied children in hotels, UN experts* said today.

“We are deeply concerned at reports that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are going missing and are at high risk of being trafficked within the UK,” the UN experts said.

They expressed alarm at the current policy and practice of housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in temporary hotel accommodations instead of under the responsibility of local authorities.

“The current policy of placing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels places them outside of the UK child protection system and is discriminatory,” the expert said, adding that failures and gaps in child protection heighten risks of trafficking.

They stressed the urgent need to trace the missing children, and to provide human rights compliant reception conditions and protection for unaccompanied children seeking asylum – without discrimination on grounds of nationality, migration status, race, ethnicity and/or gender.

“The UK Government appears to be failing to abide by its core obligations under international human rights law to ensure the best interests of the child, without discrimination, and to prevent trafficking of children,” the experts said.

They noted reports that 4,600 unaccompanied children have been housed in six hotels since June 2021, and that 440 of these children had disappeared and 220 remained unaccounted for as of 23 January 2023, the majority of whom were Albanian nationals.

“The practice has allegedly developed in a climate of increasing hostility towards victims of trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants,” the experts said. Some Members of Parliament have reportedly been critical of victims of trafficking seeking protection under the Modern Slavery Act and the National Referral Mechanism, undermining the State’s obligation to protect victims and to prevent trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery.

The experts have been in contact with the UK Government regarding these concerns.

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