CHARITIES, experts, and politicians have spoken out against the BBC after one of its most senior journalists suggested that some children are “willingly” trafficked.

Home editor Mark Easton was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday morning about the letter sent to the Prime Minister by more than 100 charities which said Home Office policy of keeping young asylum seekers in hotels was “both unlawful and harmful”.

“Almost two years into the operation of the scheme, which is both unlawful and harmful, it is no longer possible to justify the use of hotels as being ‘temporary’,” the letter stated.

Easton began by explaining the charities’ position on the some 4600 asylum-seeking children and young people who are being housed in hotels.

He went on to talk about the difficulties in identifying who is really a child and who may be lying to the UK Government about their true age.

The BBC home editor went on: “These aren’t nine and 10-year-old little kids who are going missing. What they are almost entirely is 16 – or people who claim they’re 16 or 17 – and they are Albanian males.

“People from Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Turkey have also gone missing. Thirteen are under 16 years of age. Only one of all of the 440 who’ve gone missing are female.

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“I’ve spoken to someone at the National Crime Agency and what they say is that they absolutely recognise the issue here.

“These young people are often trafficked, sometimes willingly to be honest. They come knowing that they are going to be employed by criminal gangs in the UK, and they do.

“They disappear from hotels – they’re not locked up – they disappear as soon as they are able and then they often are found working in car washes or in cannabis farms. So there’s the difficulty.”

A clip of the report was shared on Twitter by lawyer and campaigner Gemma Abbott, who invited people to complain to the BBC about the “horrific coverage”.

“Absolutely appalling coverage on the 100s of vulnerable children missing from Home Office hotels in Kent on @BBCr4today,” she wrote.

“Apparently we don’t need to worry because they’re not *proper* kids, they’re Albanian teenagers who have probably been “willingly trafficked”. What. The. Hell?”

Politicians, charities, and experts responded with outrage to Abbott’s call.

The Helen Bamber Foundation, which works with survivors of trafficking and torture and was one of the more than 100 charities to sign the letter to the government about the Home Office hotels, also urged people to complain to the BBC.

“Just awful reporting from @BBCr4today,” the foundation wrote. “Two hundred unaccompanied children remain missing after being unlawfully housed in Home Office-run hotels. Whatever their nationality, they are still CHILDREN and cannot consent to being trafficked.”

Dr Grace Robinson, an expert in child criminal exploitation and the founder of Black Box Research and Consultancy, added to the calls to complain.

She wrote: “This is gross. Well done @BBCMarkEaston, your irresponsible reporting upholds the racist and dehumanising narrative that sees Albanian CHILDREN left in innumerable desperate situations – of which you couldn’t even begin to comprehend.”

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Dr Ella Cockbain, an associate professor at UCL and an expert in trafficking, wrote: “This coverage is appalling @BBCr4today. It’s misinforming the public, furthering anti-Albanian rhetoric, minimising harms to extremely vulnerable children and young people, and detracting from state failures to protect them.”

Hywel Williams, the Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon, commented (originally in Welsh): “BBC Home Affairs Editor Mark Easton speaks – in case you thought he was one of the wild men of the paranoid right.”

Commentator Owen Jones echoed Williams, writing: “I listened to this thinking the BBC had invited some head of a right-wing fringe organisation to go on some rant, and then they didn't properly challenge him. Oh no, I was wrong, it's actually the BBC's home editor.”

The BBC declined to comment.