LONDON (AP) — The British government acted unlawfully when it routinely housed newly arrived unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels, the High Court ruled Thursday.
A child protection charity has brought legal action against Britain’s Home Office and local authorities in Kent, on England’s south coast, over their treatment of unaccompanied migrant children, saying temporary accommodation arrangements They deny young people the legal child protection safeguards to which they are entitled.
Judge Martin Chamberlain ruled that authorities breached the legal duties of care for all children who require care, regardless of their immigration status.
“Ensuring the safety and well-being of children without an adult to care for them is one of the most fundamental duties of any civilized state,” the judge said.
Every Child Protected Against Trafficking, the charity that brought the suit, said hundreds of children who arrived alone had gone missing, and many of them could be trafficked for criminal exploitation, as a result of the government’s failures.
The judge said Home Office officials had been housing minors in hotels for more than two years.
Placing asylum-seeking children in hotels for “very short periods in true emergency situations” was acceptable, he said, but “cannot be used systematically or routinely in circumstances where it is intended, or works in practice, as a substitute for local authority. careful.”
The Home Office and Department for Education had opposed the legal challenges, saying the use of the hotel was “a matter of necessity” and that officials had been left with no choice “due to the unsustainable rise in illegal Channel crossings.” of La Mancha”.
The government said after Thursday’s ruling that it will work to ensure migrant children receive “appropriate local authority placements.”
“It remains a child protection scandal that so many of the most vulnerable children remain missing at risk of significant harm as a result of these unlawful actions by the Secretary of State and Kent County Council,” said Patricia Durr, chief executive of the charity organization.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government has pledged to crack down on asylum seekers arriving on small boats crossing the English Channel from northern France. He has stressed that “stopping the boats” and dismantling the criminal gangs that facilitate their crossing is his top priority in office.
More than 45,000 people arrived in Britain making the dangerous crossing last year, and so far this year more than 12,000 more have crossed the Channel.
Earlier this month, Parliament passed the government’s controversial Illegal Migration Bill, which will ban anyone who arrives in the UK through unauthorized means from seeking asylum. Under the new law, officials can detain and then deport refugees and migrants to their home country or to a “safe third country,” such as Rwanda.
The bill has been widely criticized by human rights groups as unethical and in breach of the UK’s international human rights obligations.
Critics have also condemned the government for a huge backlog of asylum claims, which has left dozens of people in hotels or other inadequate accommodation while they wait for their claims to be processed.