Two hundred children who arrived in the UK seeking asylum without their parents in the last 18 months are missing, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said on Tuesday.
Thirteen of them are under 16 and one is a girl, he told parliament, adding that they were mostly Albanian.
The Observer newspaper on Sunday said young asylum-seekers were being “kidnapped” by criminal gangs outside their hotel in Brighton in southern England.
“Children are literally being picked up from outside the building, disappearing and not being found. They’re being taken from the street by traffickers,” a source working for government contractor Mitie told the newspaper.
Sussex Police said they had received no reports of people being kidnapped from hotels in Brighton, but that it did receive a report of two children housed at one of the hotels getting into a car nearby in May 2022.
“The vehicle was stopped on the M25 (motorway) and two men were arrested on suspicion of intent to commit human trafficking,” said the force.
“Three young passengers were taken into the care of the Home Office.”
Jenrick said that since July 2021 there have been “440 missing occurrences”, where asylum seekers did not return to their hotels, where they are staying voluntarily.
He added that there was “a significant security presence at the hotel” along with nurses and social workers.
“Those security guards are there to protect the staff and the minors and to raise any suspicious activity immediately with the local police,” said the minister.
Eighty-eight percent of the missing incidents involve Albanian nationals.
“When any child goes missing, a multi-agency missing persons protocol is mobilised alongside the police and relevant local authority,” Jenrick said.
“Many of those who have gone missing are subsequently traced,” he said.
More than 200,000 missing incidents are recorded in children’s care facilities across England and Wales each year, according to government figures.