Housing child asylum seekers in hotels unlawful, High Court rules
The Home Office’s “routine” housing of unaccompanied child asylum seekers in hotels is unlawful, the High Court has ruled.
The charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) brought legal action against the Home Office over the practice of housing unaccompanied youngsters in Home Office hotels, claiming the arrangements are “not fit for purpose”.
In a ruling on Thursday, Mr Justice Chamberlain said the use of hotels for unaccompanied asylum seeking children is unlawful, as the power to place the children in hotels “may be used on very short periods in true emergency situations”.
He told the court in London: “It cannot be used systematically or routinely in circumstances where it is intended, or functions in practice, as a substitute for local authority care.”
The judge continued: “From December 2021 at the latest, the practice of accommodating children in hotels, outside local authority care, was both systematic and routine and had become an established part of the procedure for dealing with unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
“From that point on, the Home Secretary’s provision of hotel accommodation for unaccompanied asylum seeking children exceeded the proper limits of her powers and was unlawful.
“There is a range of options open to the Home Secretary to ensure that unaccompanied asylum seeking children are accommodated and looked after as envisaged by Parliament.
“It is for her to decide how to do so.”
ECPAT’s bid was heard in London alongside similar claims brought by Brighton and Hove City Council and Kent County Council against the department.
The Home Office and Department for Education had opposed the legal challenges and said that the hotel use was lawful but was “deployed effectively as a ‘safety net’ and as a matter of necessity”.
As well as finding that the Home Office’s use of hotels to house child asylum seekers is unlawful, the judge also said that Kent County Council is acting unlawfully in failing to accommodate and look after unaccompanied asylum seeking children when notified by the Home Office.
Mr Justice Chamberlain said in his 55-page judgment: “In ceasing to accept responsibility for some newly-arriving unaccompanied asylum seeking children, while continuing to accept other children into its care, Kent County Council chose to treat some unaccompanied asylum seeking children differently from and less favourably than other children, because of their status as asylum seekers.”
The court heard that at the time of the hearing in the claims earlier this month, 154 children remained missing from the hotels, including a 12-year-old.
The judge said: “Neither Kent County Council nor the Home Secretary knows where these children are, or whether they are safe or well.
“There is evidence that some have been persuaded to join gangs seeking to exploit them for criminal purposes.
“These children have been lost and endangered here, in the United Kingdom.
“They are not children in care who have run away. They are children who, because of how they came to be here, never entered the care system in the first place and so were never ‘looked after’.”
The judge added: “Ensuring the safety and welfare of children with no adult to look after them is among the most fundamental duties of any civilised state.”
Patricia Durr, chief executive of ECPAT, said following the ruling: “It remains a child protection scandal that so many of the most vulnerable children remain missing at risk of significant harm as a consequence of these unlawful actions by the Secretary of State and Kent County Council.
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