Over 20 percent of child migrants who went missing from government accommodation had their age disputed by authorities, new figures reveal.
A total of 127 of those recorded by the Home Office as “unaccompanied asylum-seeking children” (UASC) disappeared or absconded from care either during investigations into their age or following dispute decisions.
The statistics, provided to Migrant Watch under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, show 76 absconded while under investigation while 13 went missing seven days, before or after, an official age judgement.
The data, recorded by the Home Office between 2021 to the end of 2022, shows that a total of 580 of those claiming to be children went missing or absconded from hotels or other Home Office-funded accommodation.
Migrant Watch says the figures indicate that many of those claiming to be under-age and seeking asylum before going missing in the UK, “may have in fact been aged eighteen or over.”
Alp Mehmet, chairman of the UK-based group, said the data is “yet more evidence that our asylum system is being abused.”
He said: “We also know that official guidance instructs case workers to give the benefit of the doubt to those who appear only a few years over 18. This is dangerous nonsense. The rights of our citizens and in particular our children must always come before those of bogus asylum seekers and adults pretending to be children.”
Under the newly passed Illegal Migration Act, those deemed as UCAS will be removed to either their home country or to a safe third country, such as Rwanda.
If an unaccompanied child arrives from a safe country of origin, “they may be returned to their country of origin before they are 18,” according to the Home Office.
Some MPs said the provisions would see more children intentionally missing from the asylum system to avoid deportation.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas previously told the Commons it would put already vulnerable minors at “greater risk of exploitation and abuse by traffickers.”
In January it was revealed that of the 4,600 unaccompanied minors who have arrived in the UK by small boats or other unauthorised means since July 2021, 440 had gone missing while housed in hotels.
More than half returned, but over 180 – including over a dozen under the age of 16 – had not been found. Of those who vanished, 88 percent were recorded as Albanian nationals, with the remaining 12 percent from Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Turkey. Just one was recorded as female.
In June, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick was asked about fears that the missing minors had fallen into the hands of traffickers or criminal gangs.
Mr. Jenrick told MPs that there was “no evidence that people have been abducted from outside hotels” adding that intelligence suggested some had left to gain employment in “the grey or black economies.”
The minister said that strict protocols are in place to deal with missing children including MARS (Missing After Reasonable Steps), which is widely used across children’s homes and supported accommodation for minors.
As of June, over 24,000 UCAS were being housed in government accommodation, the minister told the Commons.
High Court Ruling
In July, the High Court ruled that the “systemic and routine” housing of unaccompanied child migrants in hotels is unlawful.
In a judgement issued against the Home Office, Mr. Justice Chamberlain said its ongoing use of hotels for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children should “be used on very short periods in true emergency situations.”
The 55-page judgement also said Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s hotel provision to immigrant minors “exceeded the proper limits of her powers and was unlawful.”
The ruling came months after more than 100 child protection charities penned an open letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Condemning the government’s “reported failures to protect vulnerable children from harm,” the groups said there is no legal basis for placing children in Home Office hotel accommodation.
It added: “It is a significant departure from the Children Act 1989 and established standards.”