Whistleblowers expose UK migrant child trafficking – Observer
The UK Home Office has turned a blind eye to the disappearance of dozens of unaccompanied migrant children from a Sussex hotel it operates as a children’s home, according to an investigation by The Observer published on Saturday.
Of the 600 unaccompanied minors who have passed through the Home Office-run premises in Brighton over the last 18 months, some 136 have been reported missing, and 79 of those are still unaccounted for, the news outlet's investigation found. A whistleblower with Home Office security contractor Mitie told the paper that the alleged kidnappings are bold, frequent, and not limited to the Brighton facility.
“Children are literally being picked up from outside the building, disappearing and not being found,” the security guard reportedly said, suggesting “traffickers” are responsible. A similar facility in Hythe, Kent allegedly lost 10% of its young charges every week.
Police had been warning the Home Office for over a year that criminal networks would likely target the young asylum seekers being put up in the hotel, and the location was known to be problematic – a “hotspot of exploitation,” in the words of another source from child protection services – due to the operation of so-called 'county lines' gangs in the area.
The security guard even admitted to have witnessed the kidnappings by the gangs firsthand, but claimed feeling helpless to do anything about it. “Albanian and Eritrean gangs pick them up in their BMWs and Audis and then they just vanish,” the source said.
In May, two men were actually caught with three children – who were returned to the Home Office. In most cases, however, police investigations were merely “cursory,” and children were almost never returned, according to the Mitie worker.
While the whistleblowers have repeatedly warned the Home Office about the situation, “nothing much has changed,” The Observer reported. A Brighton councillor allegedly described the lack of government action as child neglect on an “industrial scale.”
Asked what was being done to protect unaccompanied migrant children amid this kidnapping spree, the Home Office suggested it was a police problem, while the police referred questions to the Home Office. Even after it was revealed in October that 220 child asylum seekers had gone missing from facilities funded by the agency, which housed them in hotels alongside adults whose backgrounds had not been checked, no policy changes appear to have been made – even though officials have admitted in internal communications that they are effectively running unregistered and therefore illegal children’s homes.