About 200 children, mostly Albanian teenage boys, remain missing from hotels housing asylum seekers, the immigration minister has said.
Robert Jenrick told MPs that of 4,600 child asylum seekers who had arrived in the UK since 2021, 440 had gone missing and only half had returned.
He said it was “extremely concerning” but added he had not seen evidence the children were being abducted.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper accused ministers of a “dereliction of duty”.
The shadow home secretary said there was “a criminal network involved” in taking the children away from their accommodation and that the government was “completely failing to stop them”.
“They are letting these gangs run amuck.”
She also expressed concern about the lack of clarity over whether the Home Office or local councils were legally responsible for the children.
Mr Jenrick said he had not been presented with evidence that children were being abducted but would continue to make enquiries adding: “I am not going to let this matter drop.”
He acknowledged there was “a challenge” about the status of the local authorities in this area but said the government’s overall objective was to ensure young people were only kept in the hotels “for a very short period of time”.
He told MPs that 88% of the children who had gone missing were Albanian; 13 of the children were under 16; and one of them is female.
He said the government had no power to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children but the police and local authority were “mobilised” to find missing children to ensure their safety.