Afghan child refugees are reportedly being held by the Home Office in hotels for weeks without shoes, spare clothes, money or access to health care.
According to the Observer, unaccompanied Afghan minors have not been given access to legal advice or interpreters – with some unaware where in the country they had been sent.
The shocking report suggested that children are being put into taxis and driven across the country with no escort or protection system in place – in one case, 250 miles from the south coast to Yorkshire.
It came just days after a five-year-old Afghan refugee fell to his death from a ninth-floor Sheffield hotel window just days after arriving in the UK. Asylum seekers were previously removed from the hotel because it was unfit for them to stay in, it emerged on Saturday.
Elaine Ortiz, founder of the Hummingbird Project in Brighton, told the newspaper: “The Home Office is meant to be their corporate parent but they are not taking responsibility – there’s no child protection, no health screening, no processing of asylum claims. It is shocking.”
But the article drew withering criticism from the Home Office, which took to Twitter to condemn the Observer’s “inaccuracies”.
This article is littered with inaccuracies and claims which are untrue. The Home Office works night and day to ensure the welfare and needs of children in our care are met. https://t.co/CB7rIlcgCK— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) August 21, 2021
“We will never shirk our obligations to unaccompanied asylum seeking children and to suggest otherwise is false,” the department wrote.
However the report’s author – Mark Townsend – fired back at the Home Office’s “outrageous” tweet – suggesting it had made no effort to speak to sources quoted in the article.
“The Home Office never contacted me before sending this outrageous tweet. Neither did it speak to any of the sources in the article or make any attempt to do so,” he said.
The Home Office never contacted me before sending this outrageous tweet. Neither did it speak to any of the sources in the article or make any attempt to do so. https://t.co/FsY4WJq1JR— Mark Townsend (@TownsendMark) August 22, 2021
‘Hours, not weeks’
The spat will embarrass Priti Patel, the home secretary, who last week promised to do “everything possible to provide support” to Afghan refugees to ensure they could “integrate and thrive”.
But the Home Office has turned down requests from a number of specialist charities – including Barnardo’s – to enter the hotels and assess the children.
One Muslim community group told the Observer that they had offered to supply child refugees in a hotel near Brighton with halal food, but had been turned down – despite complaints that they were only being offered “boiled vegetables”.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said the Kabul evacuation effort is “down to hours now, not weeks” as he conceded Britain’s involvement will end when the US leaves Afghanistan.
The Taliban also said any attempt to continue the operation past 31 August would “provoke a reaction” as Boris Johnson prepared to press Joe Biden for an extension to the deadline.
With the UK still hoping to evacuate thousands more people, the prime minister will urge the US president to delay the withdrawal of forces from Kabul airport during a summit of G7 leaders.