A High Court ruling which found the Home Office’s use of hotels to house lone child asylum seekers is unlawful has been hailed as a “landmark day for children’s rights”.
The charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) brought legal action against the department over the practice of housing unaccompanied youngsters in Home Office-run hotels, claiming the arrangements are “not fit for purpose”.
In a ruling on Thursday, Mr Justice Chamberlain said the practice is unlawful and had been used since at least December 2021.
Following the ruling, ECPAT’s chief executive, Patricia Durr, said: “It remains a 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.”
She added the decision was a “clear and timely reminder” about the legal obligations of local and national government towards all children in the wake of the passing of the Illegal Migration Act.
The Refugee Council’s chief executive welcomed the ruling.
Enver Solomon said: “It is a landmark day for children’s rights.
“The court has confirmed that there can be no exceptions when the rights of vulnerable children are concerned.
“The Government should do everything in its power to ensure these children are safe and in the care of local authorities.”
The court previously heard that 154 children remained missing from hotels, including a 12-year-old.
Mr Solomon added: “Most importantly, we are still waiting to hear what is happening to the 154 children who are still missing.
“There can be no compromise when it comes to children’s safety and welfare, and we hope the Government will take the necessary steps to find the missing children and ensure they are safe.”
The NSPCC said it would be “urging the Government to find solutions” to protect and support all children and young people coming to the UK.
Anna Edmundson, head of policy at the NSPCC, said: “Unaccompanied children entering the UK have already experienced major trauma and require protection and support whatever their immigration status.
“This ruling rightly reinforces how that protection and support is best provided by local authority care.
“No child should be placed in hotel accommodation.”
The Liberal Democrats said that Home Office policy has once again been shown to be “immoral” and “unworkable” as they called for the end of hotel use.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “Yet again, Home Office policy under the Conservatives is immoral, unworkable and unlawful too, as the High Court has just ruled.
“This confirms what we have been saying for months – that housing asylum-seeking children in squalid hotels is totally unacceptable.
“It’s high time for the Home Secretary to finally commit to ending the use of these hotels immediately.
“Sadly, this Conservative government has decided that their anti-refugee rhetoric is more important than safeguarding children from exploitation.”
The Home Office said it has maintained that unaccompanied children are best placed with a local authority.
A department spokesperson continued: “However, due to the unsustainable rise in illegal Channel crossings, the Government has had no option but to accommodate young people in hotels on a temporary basis while placements with local authorities are urgently found.
“In light of today’s judgment, we will continue to work with Kent County Council and local authorities across the UK to ensure suitable local authority placements are provided for unaccompanied children, in line with their duties.”