Over 100 people gathered outside Brighton Town Hall on the evening of June 27th to protest the Home Office’s decision to re-open a hotel for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The hotel, located in Hove, had previously been the subject of controversy when it was revealed that over 136 children had gone missing from the facility, with 55 still unaccounted for.
The Guardian recently reported that officers had found 12 children from Brighton who had been arrested for offenses including working on cannabis farms. There were signs that some had been trafficked. One child, a victim of assault, had allegedly been forced into slavery.
The demonstration was organized by local campaign and solidarity groups, including Homes Not Hotels, Care4Calais, Radio Calais, and Free Iran. Speakers at the event called on Brighton and Hove City Council to follow through on their commitment to take legal action against the Home Office and ensure the safety of asylum-seeking children in the city.
Bella Sankey, leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, has publicly stated that the council will consider legal action against the reopening of the hotel. The demonstration also coincided with an open letter to Brighton and Hove City Council, signed by 16 local community groups and organizations that work with people seeking asylum in the city.
Lauren Starkey, a social worker and anti-trafficking campaigner who resides in Brighton, said: “We are heartened by Brighton and Hove City Council’s public condemnation of the Home Office’s plans to re-open this hotel. We are particularly encouraged by the Council Leader suggesting they will consider legal action if the Home Office goes ahead with their plans. However, we as a community must make sure that the City Council turns these words into action – accepts its responsibility for the children and does everything in its power to welcome and protect them.”
Hermione Berendt, a member of Homes Not Hotels and a lead volunteer in Brighton for refugee charity Care4Calais added: “It is horrifying that 50 children are still missing yet the government plans to reopen the very same hotel. Tonight shows that the people of Brighton and Hove will not stand for this continued disregard for the safety and protection of asylum-seeking children.”
The demonstration ended with calls for Brighton and Hove City Council to take action against the Home Office’s decision to re-open the hotel.