Housing homeless and asylum-seeking children in hotels could be a violation of their human rights, according to a new report by Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner.

Concerns have been raised over the possibility of already vulnerable young people having their health damaged and “dangerous trauma exasperated” by stays in “unsuitable accommodation” such as hostels, B&Bs, cruise ships and barges.

According to the report, children in Scotland have placed in these types of arrangements because of UK government policy, arguing that their human rights could be infringed upon.

Furthermore, homeless children have increasingly been housed in these types of accommodation “due to a lack of suitable housing” around the country.

Nicola Killean, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said: “Our starting point is always that no child should have to live in a hotel, or hotel-type accommodation – they are totally unsuitable and violate a wide range of children’s rights.

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“Hotels are not a luxury option. They can be dangerous, exacerbate trauma and cause long-term harm to health and development. Our report recommendations are for public authorities and accommodation providers to follow to ensure that they comply with their human rights duties to children."

The report, titled “Sometimes I Feel Like I am in Prison – Placing Children in Hotel-type Accommodation” makes a range of recommendations that it says will mitigate harm children face when being placed into accommodation by supporting local authorities, asylum services and frontline workers.

It suggests that placing children in hotel-type accommodation should only be a last resort, as well as asking local authorities to carry out risk assessments and children’s right impact assessments.

Fundamentally, the report argues that accommodation must provide children with their human rights to play, to develop and to be educated, among others.

Ms Killean added: “Human rights are universal. They apply to all children without exception, whether a child is born here or moves here. The right to an adequate standard of living is much greater than simply having a roof over your head – it’s somewhere to live in security, peace, and dignity.” 

Whether it be as part of a family or unaccompanied, many children arrive in Scotland from other countries in desperate situations.

Selina Hales, from Glasgow charity Refuweegee, which deals with dozens of young people looking for asylum in Scotland, says that the report’s recommendations could go further, despite praising its overall findings.

“I could not agree more with the children’s commissioner in this report. In fact, I actually think that the recommendations do not go far enough in the sense that what’s happening now is utterly appalling and shocking.

“At Refuweegee, we see first hand the impact that living in hotels and cruise ships has on people. We have families and children visiting us almost daily who are staying in cramped hotel detention. Simply by us providing space to play, we’re doing more than hotels and more than government sees as acceptable.

16,262 children were believed to homeless in Scotland between 2022-23, with the Scottish Government statistics showing a 10% increase on the year prior, though this was in line with overall homelessness figures.

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Janet Haugh, Chief Executive, Right There, a charity preventing homelessness, commented:  "Addressing the issue of homelessness is not just simply putting a roof over someone's head, it's about providing a safe and supportive environment that they can call home. Unfortunately, many forms of temporary accommodation, including those highlighted in the report, don't do that, especially for children and young people. 

“Our experience shows that providing emotional and practical support, alongside safe accommodation, is the first crucial step in helping children and young people feel secure and allows them to have an equal chance in life. The issues raised in this report illustrate a sad, worrying picture faced by all children and young people experiencing homelessness, which is not the reality we want anyone to ever face.”

Living in accommodation such as hotels is said to be a lonely and isolating experience for the children who have the lived the experience.

One young person housed in a hotel said: “Sometimes I feel like I am in prison. I do not know anywhere around me, sometimes I take a walk to ease the tension as there are no other young people in the hotel that I can talk to.” 

A teenager who spent months in one room in a guest house with her parents said: “What saddens me was when I saw young children wandering around with no one to play with or no where to play. There was no play area, just a tiny place outside with a few benches and the adult males were always smoking there.”