Our community only had a couple of hours notice when 96 unaccompanied child migrants were placed in one of our local hotels. Our community responded with kindness, generosity and sensitivity which made me very proud.
I visited very soon after they arrived and have been several times since. It was immediately evident to me that some of the children were extremely vulnerable and exhibiting signs of trauma. The staff I met there were all well intentioned, including the junior Home Office official, but the place was chaotic and it was clear from conversations that none of the key questions about protection, safeguarding and support could be answered.
I was extremely worried, so I called the council, social services, Sussex Police and the Home Office. The only organisation that seemed to respond in a way that matched the scale of urgency was Sussex Police. The problem is they lacked the resources and powers to create a safe environment around the hotel that could ensure predatorily criminals were kept away.
Last year the police were alerted to the fact that two children had been potentially coerced into a car and driven away. They performed an incredibly sensitive operation and pursued the car carefully and at the right time intervened. The children were freed and the adults have since been arrested.
Since this time dozens of children have gone missing.
I could go into a huge detail about the amount of time my team and I have worked on various aspects of this and the other hotels and support for residents there, but I think you’ve got the gist.
So when the minister Robert Jenrick stood up in the Commons today he said that the children had been placed in ‘specialist hotels’ and that every effort had been taken to keep the kids there safe, I was beside myself with anger.
I’ve always seen my job as trying to give voice to those without one. Believe me, it’s hard to be more voiceless, powerless, than being a child in an unfamiliar country without speaking the language.
So I’ve known since the day they arrived here that they not only needed an advocate, they had a right to one. When I arrived at the hotel for the first time in order to gain entry I had to explain that everyone has a constitutional right to representation in parliament regardless if they reside here for one day or 50 years. In short – I’m their MP and I’m coming in to meet them!
Caroline Lucas was selected to ask an Urgent Question today which was brilliant. But because of my position within the shadow cabinet I’m not allowed to speak from the backbenches anymore, only on issues relating to Northern Ireland. However, both my chief whip and the speaker agreed to give me permission on this occasion for which I was so grateful.
As you can see, I believe the minister was simply ignorant in his description of the hotel as ‘specialist’, and I am extremely angry and the lack of urgency from the Home Office which simply doesn’t match the scale of problem. Please let me know your thoughts and please, if you know the location of the hotel, don’t mention it in the comments and make sure the language we use about other is respectful even when we disagree!