Dozens of lone Albanian child migrants in care missing, council admits

Dozens of lone Albanian child migrants have gone missing, a local authority has admitted.

According to figures obtained via a freedom of information (FOI) request, Kent County Council took in 197 unaccompanied child migrants from Albania between 1 January and 31 October of this year. Of those, 39 are missing.

The council had previously announced it could no longer take in any more child migrants between June and November 2021 and between August and December 2020.

Each time, it said its services were overwhelmed and called on other authorities to take in more unaccompanied children.

Albanians have accounted for the largest number of people coming in small boats across the Channel this year, making up more than 12,000 of the arrivals.

In a statement provided to the BBC, which submitted the FOI request, Kent County Council said it had seen a “significant increase” in the number of unaccompanied Albanian children referred to its services.

A spokesperson added: “Whilst all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are vulnerable to exploitation... research and experience evidences that some nationalities are particularly vulnerable and can go missing from local authority care very quickly.

“Kent County Council has used both established safeguarding protocols, including the National Referral Mechanism, and initiated multi-agency strategies to minimise the risks for these children as much as possible.

“The council continues to take a proactive role in safeguarding all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in its care.”

Almost 44,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year.

Rishi Sunak and Albanian prime minister Edi Rama recently agreed “more needed to be done to tackle illegal immigration and organised crime together”.

At its peak in early November, the overrun Manston processing centre housed 4,000 people, at least double its 1,600 capacity, in what was branded a “breach of humane conditions”.

It has since been cleared but there has been fresh criticism of the facility following an outbreak of diphtheria among asylum seekers, with the Home Office revealing a man may have died from the highly contagious disease.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said there had been an “increase” in cases of diphtheria reported among asylum seekers arriving in the UK, with 50 identified as of 25 November, including children. The figure was 39 on 10 November.

With additional reporting from PA