Home Office Home Office. Photo: Harry Metcalfe / CC BY 2.0

The disappearances of refugee children are a direct consequence of anti-migrant rhetoric and policy, argues Lucy Nichols

According to the Guardian, dozens of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been kidnapped by criminal gangs from hotels across the south coast. Of the 600 children that have passed through a single hotel in Brighton, 79 remain missing. The whistleblower, who worked for the Home Office contractor Mitie, estimated that 10% of the children under the government’s care in another hotel were going missing every week. Reports have described children and teenagers being forced into the backs of cars and driven away, and ‘criminal gangs’ waiting outside the Brighton hotel about which the whistleblower revealed information.

This is a phenomenon that has been going on for a number of months, appearing to have affected hundreds of incredibly vulnerable children, some of whom may have been trafficked as far as Manchester or Scotland. The Home Office was even warned by the police that refugee children were at risk of being kidnapped and trafficked by organised crime syndicates, but neglected to act. The relevant authorities are apparently doing what they can to bring back the missing children and prevent the abduction of any more. It is, however, clear that the government has totally failed to look after the asylum-seeking and refugee children who have ended up in its care.

This most recent scandal to do with the poor treatment of refugees is indicative of the government’s overall attitude toward those who come to Britain seeking safety and refuge. The Conservatives and Labour alike have pushed anti-migrant rhetoric for decades, and with the exception of Corbyn’s leadership, both parties have demonstrated very little concern for refugees and asylum-seekers.

Suella Braverman has consistently demonstrated her disdain for refugees and is currently in the middle of a number of rows about her reactionary immigration laws. Not only does she believe in sending migrants to Rwanda, but is now attempting to force out international students six months after they graduate, unless they can find skilled work. Her commitment to reduce immigration to the UK dramatically reflects her Conservative ideology fuelled by racism and British exceptionalism.

The truth about refugees

In 2022, the majority of people seeking asylum in the UK came from Albania, whereas in the EU most came from the Middle East, Afghanistan, or Latin America. The majority of the world’s refugees flee to the countries nearest their own, which is why there are so many in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey or Colombia. Comparatively, very few are fleeing to western Europe and the United Kingdom, although since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, there has been a small increase. As of November 2022, there were about 350,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK, and 5000 stateless persons. This makes up less than half a percent of the UK’s population and is around the same number of people as live in Coventry.

Despite what the government, mainstream media, and sections of the Labour party would have us believe, there is not a refugee crisis in Britain at present. We do not run the risk of being overrun by asylum-seekers, and these vulnerable people will not cause the NHS to implode (that will be the government’s doing). We can absolutely afford to provide more support to refugees, rather than forcing vulnerable people into detention centres along the south coast, or children into hotels that are unsafe.

The treatment of Ukrainian refugees in the UK and Europe has proven that the government is willing to help certain refugees. There are a number of factors that contribute to the differing levels of support for Ukrainian refugees versus those from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa, who are more like to travel to the UK via dinghies. It is hard to argue that Islamophobia and racism have not contributed to the government’s extremely cruel treatment of these particular groups of refugees. These kinds of discrimination are part and parcel of Tory rule, in accord with the views of vast sections of the British establishment, allowing for the incredibly cruel treatment of refugees that we see today.

In a country with as much hoarded wealth as Britain, it is unacceptable that refugees and asylum-seekers are not allowed the basic human right of safety, or that children under the government’s care are being abducted. The Tory government has no moral compass, and so it is up to the left to demonstrate solidarity with refugees, and to force the government into treating the most vulnerable section of society with respect and dignity.

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