Hundreds of people gathered in the centre of Brighton to call for action following the disappearance of dozens of children seeking asylum from a Hove hotel.
Activists gathered at the Clock Tower to demand an investigation into the abductions, with some carrying banners that said “every child matters”, “refugees welcome” and “homes not hotels”.
Campaign groups, including Stand Up to Racism, Care 4 Calais, and other refugee organisations were among the protesters at the “emergency demonstration” earlier this evening.
One protester, who didn’t give their name, said that the situation was “disgraceful”.
She said: “Kids shouldn’t be unaccompanied in hotels, they should be taken into foster care straight away.
“It’s ridiculous – you wouldn’t do that for any other children.”
A speaker addresses the crowd at the protest earlier this evening (Image: Andrew Gardner / The Argus)
To cheers from the crowd, one speaker told the protesters: “We, the people of the UK, care about the wellbeing and the safety of people seeking asylum here.
“We will not stand by and allow the Home Office to continue to fail them.”
The huge number of protesters who had turned out for the event chanted “refugees are welcome here” and called on Home Secretary Suella Braverman to resign.
In a passionate speech to the crowd, Aaron from Stand Up to Racism said: “This is a catastrophic failure of child protection. This is a national scandal.
“The government talks a lot about trafficking when it comes to people risking their lives to cross the Channel in small boats, but they do not mention that the hostile environment they have created drives the business model of people smugglers.
“There is a lot of buck-passing on the issue of trafficking – enough is enough.”
Protesters carried placards and signs saying ‘refugees welcome’ (Image: The Argus)
Aaron, who did not give his surname, also called for Brighton and Hove City Council to be held to account for their part in the scandal and must do more.
“They must acknowledge the scale of this tragedy and take more responsibility for safeguarding asylum-seeking children in our city.
“Without ceasing the use of hotels to accommodate these children, it is wrong for the council to say we are a city of sanctuary. We’re not – children are going missing, how is that sanctuary?”
‘Home Office negligence played into hands of criminals’
A statement from MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas was also read out at the protest, where she described the situation as “shocking and devastating”.
She wrote: “On Suella Braverman and her predecessor’s watch, around 200 children in total have gone missing from hotels like the one in Hove. These are individual children’s lives and each one matters.
“The Home Office’s negligence has played into the hands of criminal gangs.
“Our city stands united in calling for each and every one of these children to matter.”
Another protest is planned for February 2 outside Hove Town Hall, to coincide with a council meeting.