A teenager was allegedly raped by a man in his 30s at an east London hotel accommodating refugees and another alleged sexual assault of a child is said to have taken place at the same facility.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed they are investigating both incidents, which come amid growing fears of chronic overcrowding and unsafe facilities for refugees, which have put Home Secretary Suella Braverman under considerable pressure.
The other child was allegedly sexually assaulted at the same accommodation facility in Walthamstow. The Met said one person has been charged with one charge of sexually touching a child under 13 and will appear in court next week.
The two incidents are believed to have happened within weeks of each other at a hotel where 150 children are reportedly cooped up alongside 250 adults.
Labor MP Stella Creasy called on Braverman to resign over the revelations and said the Home Office had failed to put in place proper safeguards to protect refugee children. Braverman has previously described such accommodation as “nice hotels”, costing up to £150 per person per night.
The use of hotel accommodation for asylum seekers has nearly tripled in 2021, despite pledges by the Home Office to end use. Responding to questions from the prime minister on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak said the interior ministry must book hotel accommodation for hundreds more refugees.
The Government is under significant pressure to turn off asylum seekers from severely overcrowded immigration centres, including Manston Immigration Center in Kent.
Grace Williams, the leader of Waltham Forest Council, has written to Braverman to express concerns about the lack of safeguards at the London facility, saying: “We have always expressed our view that the placement of families with children in emergency hotels is in line with the children’s well-being is detrimental. It is now apparent that it also poses a risk to their safety.”
The hotel is run by Clearsprings Ready Homes, which has a 10-year contract from the Home Office to manage asylum seekers’ accommodation in England and Wales. On Monday, the Guardian reported that the company had grown its profits more than six-fold over the past year, with its three directors sharing dividends of almost £28m.
Creasy expressed concern about conditions for children at the House of Commons hotel on Monday, before becoming aware of the allegations. She said up to eight people were crammed into one room. “No school places for these children of primary school age. No clothes for most of them, especially for the winter weather. No gambling opportunities when they are allowed in all these prisons. No protection as far as any of us can see,” she added.
She asked Braverman if she would publish the contracts governing the care of refugee children. Braverman said it was a fallacy to suggest the government was cutting corners, adding: “When I arrived at the Home Office I was frankly very dismayed and appalled to find that we are spending an average of £150 per person per person night to accommodate people in hotels. By my standards this is a pretty nice hotel.”
Creasy told the Guardian that instead of taking her concerns seriously, Braverman “made a cheap jibe about the price of the hotels and showed little understanding of why it matters”.
She said: “These incidents underscore the importance of those who have responsibilities towards these children do so with the professionalism and compassion they deserve. The home secretary has failed on all counts – if she had any integrity she would resign, and if she doesn’t, the prime minister owes these children a never-before-due duty of care and must remove them from her post. ”
Williams said the hotel, which the council won’t identify, is not fit for long-term use. Many of the rooms have no windows that open, carpets or desks, and there are no common areas, so refugees have to eat in their rooms. She said these circumstances show that these hotels are not safe places for young people.
She said: “These are vulnerable children who have often moved thousands of miles and been housed in cramped hotels for months without proper support. Municipalities are doing everything in their power to protect these people, with little or no warning of the large numbers of asylum seekers being housed in their areas. In addition to schools and health services, we support people with often very complex needs with few additional resources.
“Waltham Forest has a proud history of welcoming people from all over the world. The government must stop putting children and vulnerable people at risk.”
Williams has urged the Home Secretary to conduct risk assessments for each person placed in emergency hotels and to confirm that single men will no longer be placed in hotels with children and families.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called it “a truly appalling report”. She said: “This comes just weeks after hundreds of children were reported missing from a Home Office-run hotel and have still not been reported,” she said. “The Home Office must take urgent action to protect the children in its care.”
One person was charged with sexually touching a child under the age of 13 on Sunday, Sept. 11, the Met said.
A spokesman added: “He was released by the court on bail to appear at Stratford Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday 9 November. The charges relate to an incident at a hotel in Waltham Forest on Friday 9 September. The victim is being cared for by specialized officers.”
Police said they received a report of a rape at the same hotel on October 5. A spokesman said: “Officers attended and spoke to the victim, a teenage boy, and his family. Technical support is provided. A man in his 30s was arrested at the scene and taken into custody. He has been released on bail to return for an appointment in early January 2023.”
The Home Office and Clearsprings declined to comment.