The number of children who disappear soon after arriving in the UK as asylum seekers has doubled over the past year, raising fears that they are being spirited away by traffickers into domestic servitude, the sex trade or are ending up on the streets, and adding to concerns that local authorities are increasingly unable to cope with the demands being put on them.
More than 900 asylum-seeking children have gone missing in the past five years but since the start of 2015 the rate has risen, according to new figures obtained by the Observer. At least 340 disappeared between January and September, and nearly a third of those remain missing and at risk of exploitation and radicalisation, according to Freedom of Information responses from 132 local authorities across England and Wales. With many children in the UK still without a social worker assigned to them, the real number could be significantly higher.
The Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron will present a bill in the Commons this week calling for better support for such children. The government has already accepted, although not implemented, recommendations made in a 2013 independent report by the chief inspector of borders and immigration, John Vine, that stated there should be systematic monitoring of such children as well as a duty to attempt to trace their families.
The latest findings were “utterly shocking”, said Labour MP Ann Coffey, who led a 2012 inquiry into children who went missing from care. “We need to find out who is encouraging these children to go missing, where they are being taken and what risks they are facing. To do that there needs to be a systematic recording system so that we can build up a national picture of what is going on,” she said.
In Kent, which has responsibility for 982 under-18s who have arrived through the port of Dover, up from 333 in 2014, authorities admit they do not have the resources to provide adequate protection for vulnerable children. Northampton has seen an 80% increase in the numbers of unaccompanied children.
Croydon, home to the country’s only asylum-seeker screening unit, is also under strain, and councils including Cheshire East, Hammersmith and Thurrock have seen the number of asylum-seeking children in their care triple.
With no centralised database, it is impossible to ascertain patterns in those going missing, but data shows that Vietnamese, Albanian and Afghan children are disappearing in high numbers – a worry for charities that believe these are the nationalities particularly at risk from criminal gangs.
At least 48 Vietnamese children have gone missing from authorities across England and Wales in the last nine months. That figure includes Mytam Phan and Thuy Dung Thi Tran, both 14. The two girls were among the nine children found hiding in the back of a lorry in Sussex in July. By the next day, eight had gone missing. Mytam and Thuy disappeared in the night from their foster placement without shoes, extra clothes or any money. They have not been heard of since.
Published on December 6, 2015 in the Observer.