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About 200 children, mostly Albanian teenage boys, remain missing from hotels housing asylum seekers, the immigration minister has said.

Robert Jenrick told MPs that of 4,600 child asylum seekers who had arrived in the UK since 2021, 440 had gone missing and only half had returned.

He said it was “extremely concerning” but added he had not seen evidence the children were being abducted.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper accused ministers of a “dereliction of duty”.

The shadow home secretary said there was “a criminal network involved” in taking the children away from their accommodation and that the government was “completely failing to stop them”.

“They are letting these gangs run amuck.”

She urged the government to crack down on the gangs and end its contracts with hotels from where children had gone missing.

‘Challenge’

She also expressed concern about the lack of clarity over whether the Home Office or local councils were legally responsible for the children.

Mr Jenrick said he had not been presented with evidence that children were being abducted but would continue to make enquiries adding: “I am not going to let this matter drop.”

He acknowledged there was “a challenge” about the status of the local authorities in this area but said the government’s overall objective was to ensure young people were only kept in the hotels “for a very short period of time”.

He told MPs that 88% of the children who had gone missing were Albanian; 13 of the children were under 16; and one of them is female.

He said the government had no power to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children but the police and local authority were “mobilised” to find missing children to ensure their safety.

‘Coerced’

Caroline Lucas – a Green MP in Brighton where some of the children are thought to have gone missing – accused the Home Office of “staggering complacency and incompetence”.

“This feels like the plight of girls in Rotherham who were treated like they didn’t matter,” she said, in reference to the widespread child sex abuse in the Yorkshire town.

Ms Lucas raised the matter in Parliament following a report in the Observer that children had been kidnapped from a hotel in Brighton and Hove.

Another local MP – Labour’s Peter Kyle – said the missing children were being “coerced into crime”, adding: “Just last year Sussex Police pursued a car that had collected two children from outside this hotel.

“When they managed to get the car to safety they released two child migrants and they arrested one of the members who was driving it – who was a gang leader who was there to coerce the children into crime.”

The government has come under pressure recently to reduce the number of asylum seekers staying in hotels.

Asylum seekers are often accommodated in hotels while the Home Office decides whether they can stay in the country.

This is a lengthy process, and recent delays in decision making, as well as a big rise in the numbers arriving in the UK, has caused a rise in the numbers kept in hotels.

Source: BBC

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