Traffickers used Heathrow 'children's home' to bring Chinese migrants into Britain for prostitution and drugs trade
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 5:53 PM on 06th May 2009
(PHOTO: Unaccompanied Chinese teenagers arriving at Heathrow, above, are taken to a Hillingdon assessment unit nearby – but many have then disappeared)
People smugglers used a council-run residential unit near Heathrow as a 'clearing house' to move dozens of young Chinese into Britain for prostitution or work in the drugs trade.
At least 77 youngsters from China have gone missing since March 2006 from the home, run by the London borough of Hillingdon, a leaked document from the UK Border Agency reveals.
The report, marked 'restricted', said those arriving alone from China are collected by border officials at the airport and taken into local authority care – but have been vanishing within days or weeks.
It said ten had jumped out of windows, some had disappeared during fire drills while others simply walked out of the building into waiting cars.
Only four were found. Two girls – one pregnant – later reappeared after being forced to work in brothels in the Midlands.
It is believed many went into prostitution, to work on cannabis farms or to sell counterfeit goods on the streets.
The document said the missing youngsters were victims of an international trafficking network with agents based as far afield as China, Brazil, Japan, Malaysia and Kenya.
Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said the leaked report highlighted a 'scandalous situation in our immigration system'.
He said: 'To have such a large number of children going missing when they are supposed to be in care is unacceptable. We need an urgent explanation from the Home Secretary.'
Hillingdon council said the disappearances appeared to be 'planned and co-ordinated by criminal gangs'.
Julian Worcester, the deputy director of children's services, told The Guardian, which obtained the leaked report: 'They were being trafficked and there has been organised movement through the facility.'
But he told the Mail that the unit – labelled a children's home by The Guardian – was actually an assessment unit where officials determine whether migrants who may be in their teens are children or not.
Most residents were between 16 and 20 years old, but economic migrants often claim to be under 18 so they will not be detained by the Border Agency, said Mr Worcester.
The leaked document highlighted a particular influx of Chinese youngsters who had paid people smugglers up to 15,000 a head to bring them to Britain, he said.
'Between April 2007 and March last year, 79 young people went missing, often before we were able to determine whether they were under 18,' said Mr Worcester.
'It was obvious from the number who had gone missing that we were dealing with organised crime. They've been briefed on how to deal with the border agencies and others.
'Unfortunately the UK is presented as if they is lots of employment and opportunities.'
He added: 'Prosecutions have been very low because the young people don't want to give evidence, either for fear of retribution against themselves or their families back in China.'
Efforts by Hillingdon, police and border officials since then had massively reduced the influx, Mr Worcester said, with only 20 young Chinese arriving in Britain unaccompanied in the past 12 months – and only four of these going missing.
'We're not complacent, we've got to keep the pressure up or the problem will come back,' he added.
The UK Border Agency said local authorities should be 'particularly vigilant' to stop unaccompanied children falling back into the traffickers' grip.
A spokeswoman said: 'Like any other child in need of protection, local authorities have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of trafficked children following an assessment of their individual needs.
'When a child believed to have been trafficked is reported as “missing” from care, it is essential that the local authority works with the police and the UK Border Agency to locate the child and assist in any prosecution of their traffickers.'
A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokeswoman said: 'We are clearly very concerned about any children that go missing from local authority care.
'We recognise the vulnerability of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who may have been trafficked into the UK.
'It is a duty for local authorities to make sure looked-after children are properly safeguarded wherever they are placed.
'They are also responsible for making sure the necessary measures are in place to take action whenever a child in their care goes missing.'
Police have previously highlighted the problem of unaccompanied Chinese children claiming asylum and then disappearing from their accommodation.
Research by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) showed at least 325 young people were identified as potential victims of trafficking in one year, with the true number likely to be much higher.
It said children came from 52 different countries, including China, Britain, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Romania and Vietnam.
Half were forced to work as prostitutes, while others were used as forced labour in restaurants, building sites, beauty salons and the drugs trade.
Evidence was also uncovered of British children being trafficked around the country for sexual exploitation.