Hundreds of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have gone missing from accommodation in Kent in the past year - with many never found.
A senior police officer has today confirmed that, since January 2022, 295 youngsters have disappeared after arriving in the county, many by small boat crossings of the English Channel.
Of those, 247 went missing from hotels which are being used to accommodate asylum seekers and 71 have never been relocated.
The scale of the issue was raised by Kent Police's area commander for Folkestone and Hythe, Chief Inspector Keith Taylor, during a public meeting this afternoon.
He was speaking at an online community event organised by Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC), during which a panel of experts addressed questions submitted in advance by the public.
"We treat missing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children very similarly, in the first instance, as we would any other missing child," he said.
"They're considered to be vulnerable due to age.
"We will make initial enquiries around contacts. We'll try and do any investigation we can immediately to identify where they may have gone, the circumstances of them being missing and what we can best do to find them.
"They'll quickly be circulated nationally as missing people and our activity and investigation is as it would be in any other case.
"We also are mindful of potential links to OCG [organised crime group] activity, which may broaden our investigation slightly around vehicle movements and using ANPR technology and things similar to that."
The event was broadcast live on YouTube from 3pm today, but was viewed by a small audience of about 40 people at its peak.
'Hotels are not the right answer for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children...'
Cllr Roger Gough, the leader of Kent County Council, was one of those who addressed the session and spoke about his authority's responsibilities in helping to manage the influx of people arriving by small boat.
"Everyone would agree, I think, hotels are not the right answer for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children," he said.
Last year the inspection of hotels used to house child refugees uncovered a catalogue of failings in Home Office care for the minors.
An independent investigation into the quality of accommodation for "extremely vulnerable" unaccompanied asylum-seeking children found issues with security, vetting of adults with access to properties, and plans to transition youngsters into more appropriate long-term housing.
Inspectors visited a number of hotels in the south east - including 60-room accommodation in Folkestone and a 44-room property in Hythe - during a three-month period in 2022.
They discovered what their report describes as a "lack of professionalism" among security staff at the Folkestone hotel, including sitting in cars while on duty rather than being in appropriate positions to guard the site.
In addition to addressing the issue of children being housed in temporary accommodation, Ch Insp Taylor also responded to community concern about the wider impact on crime and public safety from housing of asylum seekers in the district.
He said: "There's no correlation that I can see, or has been brought to my attention, in terms of the locations of the hotels that we're using to house asylum seekers and an increase in crime.
"I have not had any incidents brought to my attention that involve females or members of the public being approached, harassed on their way home.
"If that is happening, then I would urge people to report it to us.
"But I have no evidence that that's been taking place, which once again reiterates, I think, that we are providing safe environment for the local community."
The meeting was asked about the impact of the use of hotels on the local tourist trade, which was addressed by FHDC director of place Ewan Green.
He said: "In terms of the potential impact of hotel use on tourism, we are concerned about the impact of the ongoing nature of temporary accommodation and the use of hotels.
"We engage regularly with business and tourism groups to keep an eye on this situation, and gauge the impact, and will no doubt throughout the coming months engage with the Home Office on that agenda."
Folkestone, in particular, has found itself at the centre of the issue of temporary accommodation. Three hotels have been block-booked for asylum seekers.
"We used to get something like 300 to 400 people making the crossing in a week" said Cllr Mary Lawes, of Folkestone Town Council, of the small boats issue in November.
"Now it's between 700 and 1,000 a day; that really is not sustainable. We don't have the infrastructure for that."