Housing asylum-seeking children in hotels ‘safeguarding catastrophe’, court told

Posted: 2nd August 2023

Housing children seeking asylum in hotels is a “safeguarding catastrophe” that has had “dangerous” consequences, the High Court has heard.

The charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) is bringing legal action against the Home Office over the practice of housing unaccompanied youngsters in Home Office hotels, claiming the arrangements are unlawful and “not fit for purpose”.

ECPAT’s bid is being heard in London alongside similar claims brought by Brighton and Hove City Council and Kent County Council against the department, which is disputing the legal actions.

Martin Westgate KC, for the charity, said more than 5,400 children have been housed in hotels since June 2021.

“The consequences have been dangerous,” he told the court, adding that hundreds of children had gone missing.

“Two hundred children remain missing, 13 of them are under 16 years of age,” Mr Westgate said.

In joint written submissions, Stephanie Harrison KC, representing Brighton and Hove City Council, and Mr Westgate said if the practice was found to be unlawful, there would be an “immediate need for an urgent lawful response and action to remedy the systemic illegality”.

They said: “It is the assessment of Brighton and Hove City Council that the arrangements for transfer and the use of hotels are totally inappropriate based on the experience of the known risks of children going missing, the inadequate arrangements for safeguarding children.”

The two barristers said the experience of Brighton and Hove City Council – which has housed around 1,700 children since 2021 – “graphically illustrates the costs and resource consequences of these arrangements and safeguarding catastrophe that ensued and the ad hoc and wholly inadequate provision that was made”.

Ms Harrison and Mr Westgate later said the hotel use only applies to newly arrived unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, who are “deprived of important support and protection at a time when they most need it”.

The legal challenge comes after more than 100 organisations – including ECPAT – urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this year to stop using hotels and instead place them with specialist local authority teams.

Deok Joo Rhee KC, for the Home Office and Department for Education, said in written submissions that hotel use was lawful, but “not sustainable”.

She said: “The Home Office agrees that the current situation whereby unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are waiting for a permanent placement and out of necessity being accommodated in hotels whilst LA accommodation is identified is not sustainable.”

The barrister said the use of hotels was “deployed effectively as a ‘safety net’ and as a matter of necessity” rather than being seen as an “acceptable alternative”.

Ms Rhee continued: “It is in this sense a ‘necessary’ step that is being taken so as to ensure that no unaccompanied asylum-seeking child is left without any shelter at all and that steps can be taken to move them into a care placement.”

She added that ECPAT “proffers no concrete solution to the very real and immediate challenges that are faced”.

The hearing before Mr Justice Chamberlain is due to finish on Friday with a decision expected at a later date

Source – Housing asylum-seeking children in hotels ‘safeguarding catastrophe’, court told | ITV News Meridian

Categories: News