Brighton and Hove is not fit to call itself a city of sanctuary until missing asylum-seeking children are found, an MP has said.

Hove MP Peter Kyle has been vocal in his criticism for a lack of urgent action to protect vulnerable children being accommodated in a hotel in the city, with 76 still missing.

Speaking outside the hotel to The Argus, he said: “I think the term city of sanctuary should be suspended until these 76 kids have been found.

“I’ve heard several politicians using the phrase and I don’t think that we are fit for the term.”

Mr Kyle was, in particular, critical of the “pass the parcel” attitude of several different organisations, including the council and the Home Office and called on them to work together to protect the safety of children staying in the city.

The Home Office has chosen to house the youngsters in these hotels and there have been calls for councils to help ensure their safety.

Mr Kyle said: “I think it heaps absolute shame on us as a country and each institution individually. 

“At no point did I ever sense there was an all-hands-on-deck attitude since these kids arrived.

“Even though they’ve done good things, they could have done more and better.”

'Hotels like supermarkets for criminal gangs'

Mr Kyle reflected on his own efforts to protect children seeking asylum staying at the hotel. He conceded he could have done more, but said “I seem to be the only person beating themselves up about it”.

Mr Kyle has been out on trips with the police before where teenagers in brighton have been caught up in "county lines" drug dealing where they sell the drungs for gang leaders from elsewhere. He said he knows the asylum seekers are now getting caught up in the same dealing.

“We know for a fact that has happened, we knew it was going to happen,” he said.

He said: “These kids are being coerced into crime by adults. Those adults should be in prison and the government has failed to tackle the system that is now dragging a new cohort of vulnerable children into it.

“The system of child criminal exploitation in this country is a black hole that is sucking vulnerable children from every corner of our society into it, and now these hotels are like a supermarket for them.”

He added that the disappearances are not a one-off and are just the “latest piece of the jigsaw” of child exploitation.

“The Argus has reported that criminal gangs target areas where vulnerable kids are, so 96 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in one building where English is not the first language are going to be targetted.

“You couldn’t have been clearer unless you had neon lights on the top saying “they’re here”. 

“Criminal gangs understand children and their vulnerabilities better than the systems that are there to protect them.”

Children 'thoughtful, curious and trying to think about future'

Despite the threats that children face outside the hotel’s walls, Mr Kyle said that the environment they are currently housed in is compassionate.

“For many of the kids, it will be the first caring environment they have experienced,” he said.

Mr Kyle said that the children are “very considerate” of their neighbourhood and surroundings. As an example, he said children avoid part of a garden where a neighbour is very sensitive to noise and opt to go to the beach or a park to play ball games or team sports.

He also said that the person running the home, who has been there since day one, has “never seen any alcohol, any drugs or any behaviour that is in any way threatening or a threat to anyone else.”

“This is not a stereotype of criminals grasping feral children that some people want to portray - these are kids who are doing everything that is asked of them. They are thoughtful, curious and trying to think about the future,” Mr Kyle said.

'Emergency system has become the norm'

Despite the welcoming environment the hotel offers, Mr Kyle said that such hotels shouldn’t exist.

“The government has had 18 months to find an alternative system. This was an emergency system but it’s become normal.”

Mr Kyle called on the government to put more money into foster care to provide an alternative to the current system, alongside more support for foster carers to make them feel valued and rewarded.

He said: “I went to sit with a foster parent a couple weeks before Christmas who was telling me that the funding she has been receiving has been reducing, but because of the cost of living, she can’t feed the kids and the money hasn’t gone up, so she is having to withdraw herself.

“We’re going in the wrong direction with this. Foster parents feel like they are battling the system themselves on behalf of the kids.”

In Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this week, Rishi Sunak pledged that the government would end the use of hotels for accommodating unaccompanied asylum seekers, without providing a timeframe as to when this might occur.

Mr Kyle was dismissive of the Prime Minister’s response to the situation.

“It means nothing until we see it - we’re in mid-winter and there’s 30 kids in there. Is he telling me that there is going to be fewer in the summer and that this will be sorted? I don’t believe a word.

“They have had 18 months to sort this and they have done nothing. They have a Home Secretary that dreams of deportations, rather than solving problems - until that changes, I don’t see it happening.”