Doubts cast on government figures for missing asylum-seeking children

Government figures on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who go
missing from care are under close scrutiny this week.

The most recent government figures available state that 15
unaccompanied asylum-seeking children went missing from council
care in England between 1 April 2002 and 31 March 2003.

But figures obtained by Community Care show that at least 44
children went missing from two local authorities alone in 2003. At
least 21 children went missing from West Sussex and 23 from

The government’s figure seemed very low for a whole year, said
Carron Somerset, campaign officer at End Child Prostitution, Child
Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes.
The organisation has carried out its own research into the numbers
of child trafficking and unaccompanied asylum-seeking

In West Sussex, when a child goes missing, the police, the
Immigration and Nationality Directorate and the missing-from-care
department at the National Missing Persons Helpline, which provides
a specialist service for social services and police, are all

But Susan Ellery, service manager for leaving care and child asylum
at the council, admitted that the success rate for finding children
was “minimal”, with most disappearing for good.

Christine Atkinson, policy adviser at the NSPCC, said that a
consortium of children’s charities, including the NSPCC, NCH,
Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society, had been asking the
government “for a while” to conduct more research on children who
go missing from care.

It was “still not clear” what support was available for
unaccompanied children nationally, she said. “The issue is that it
gets picked up by one local authority but there doesn’t seem to be
a national strategy to support the local service.”

A study to find evidence of child trafficking from Heathrow airport
was launched last August by the Metropolitan Police child
protection command, the NSPCC, Hillingdon social services and the
Immigration Service.

Results from the initiative, entitled Operation Paladin Child, are
due to be published shortly.

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