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Case update 14 April 2023

Housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels is unlawful, letter argues

William Barton / Shutterstock

In a Good Law Project-backed case, children’s charity Article 39 has written to the government to reiterate its concerns that housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels is unlawful.

In early March, we supported Article 39 to send a Pre-Action Protocol (PAP) letter – the initial step in a potential judicial review – arguing that the Home Office’s practice of housing extremely vulnerable children in this way had no legal basis and was against their best interests.

After seeking two extensions and taking a month to respond to the letter, the government failed to respond to the queries and requests for the information raised, and relied on a distorted interpretation of the Children Act 1989 to deny any wrongdoing.

We have therefore supported Article 39 to write again to the government to correct their factual and legal positions and offer a further opportunity to respond.

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The first step in this potential legal challenge was taken after a whistleblower reported that dozens of children had gone missing from a government-run hotel, with clear indications that they had been trafficked by criminal gangs. The government has admitted that it is unaware of the whereabouts of hundreds of children.

The Home Office has stated that it had to step in after it faced a situation where the children would be uncared for.

However, Article 39’s further pre-action letter highlights that this is a “rewriting of history”. Ordinarily, unaccompanied minors would have been cared for by local authorities under the Children Act.

Just this week, a group of UN experts expressed “alarm” at this policy, stating: “The current policy of placing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels places them outside of the UK child protection system and is discriminatory.”

In a separate action, Good Law Project’s Executive Director, Jo Maugham, and Carolyne Willow, Founder Director of Article 39, have written to the Home Secretary to raise serious concerns about proposed guidelines on the restraint of children under the new Illegal Migration Bill.

In the Bill’s children factsheet, the Home Office states: “[u]sing force on children in family groups may unfortunately be necessary if a family is resisting removal”.

The letter reminds the Home Secretary that the physical restraint of any person is an exceptionally serious matter, which can result in serious physical and psychological harm and even death. The gravity of the issue and the potential harm it causes are significantly heightened when restraint is used against children.

In addition, the new factsheet is inconsistent with current Home Office Guidance, which states explicitly that “[p]hysical intervention must not be used to force children”. This sends mixed messages to civil servants, immigration enforcement officers and the public, posing serious risks to children.

A “targeted consultation” on the policy has been proposed, but there is limited information on what this will entail. The letter asks for a response from the government on these issues by April 18, 2023. 

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