Unaccompanied child migrants brought to the UK from Calais are disappearing, feared to have been entrapped in slavery and prostitution by their traffickers.
A freedom of information request lodged by Ecpat UK, which campaigns against child trafficking and exploitation, and the charity Missing People last month revealed that more than 500 unaccompanied child asylum seekers and 167 trafficked children went missing at least once in the year to September 2015.
Of those, 207 have still not been found.
David Simmonds, chairman of the asylum, migration, and refugee task force at the Local Government Association, told The Sunday Times that the children may have been entrapped by traffickers who agreed to take payment for the journey after they had arrived in Europe.
“Absconding is a big problem, specifically from this cohort,” Mr. Simmonds, deputy leader of Hillingdon council in west London, said. “The [traffickers] have an online relationship with the refugees. They pick them up on Facebook and subject them to threats. They say, ‘We know where your little brother is, he’s still in France.’
“We are hearing examples with this cohort [from Calais] who are being pursued, and that is definitely an issue. We have seen examples of where the young people have gone missing.”
Approximately 750 unaccompanied children were brought to the UK from the Calais Jungle migrant camp before its demolition by the French authorities, the youngest of which have been placed with families. But older children have been placed into residential facilities, while the oldest are semi-independent.
“Social services do not have any powers to keep young people in any form of secure environment,” Mr. Simmonds said. “They are free to disappear should they wish to.”
During a debate on the relocation of child migrants held in the House of Commons just before the Jungle demolition, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said it was “crucial” that the identities of the children brought over were protected to keep them safe from traffickers who might track them down to extort cash or exploit them further.
Yet the two charities involved in the FOI request warned that there are “deeply concerning” inconsistencies in the way local authorities identify and record information about vulnerable children. Many of the councils approached were unable to give figures for the overall numbers of trafficked and unaccompanied children in their care.
Rudd also promised to bring half of the children in the camp on the day of demolition over to the UK, under a scheme which the Home Office announced last week had now come to an end. The department has promised to give councils £40,000 per child this year.
She made it clear that only children present in the camp on the day of demolition would qualify under the scheme, but tomorrow activists will gather to demand another 1,000 children are brought to the UK by Christmas.
“Almost 2000 refugee children are stuck in limbo in France. We must call on Amber Rudd MP to fulfil her promise — to bring ‘half’ the Calais children to the UK”, Citizens UK said.