Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

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Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the home affairs select committee, called the revelations 'shocking' Credit: Charlotte Graham/Charlotte Graham

Private schools are making hundreds of thousands of pounds from Vietnamese children who are entering Britain on student visas then disappearing, it has been revealed.

Children thought to be as young as 15 are being brought to the UK by suspected trafficking gangs through legitimate visas sponsored by elite private schools, an investigation by the Times found. 

The students often go missing, in some cases disappearing without a trace, within weeks of starting at the schools. It is believed they are victims of trafficking gangs who have exploited a loophole in Britain’s visa rules to bring minors into the country. 

The investigation carried out by the paper uncovered at least 21 Vietnamese children who have vanished from boarding schools and private colleges across Britain in the past four years. The investigation was carried out without the schools' knowledge.

The children - who are mostly girls - are feared to have been trafficked into brothels, cannabis farms or nail bars. 

Police and the Home Office are investigating the disappearances, but many of the girls remain unaccounted for. 

Eight Vietnamese children have gone missing from the £25,000-a-year Chelsea Independent College, a west London school owned by Astrum Education, a for-profit body. 

According to a former member of staff, one girl ran away at night through a fire escape, causing a "panic" among staff.

At Abbey College, Malvern, Worcestershire, which says that it has educated “the children and grandchildren of kings, heads of state and other preeminent global figures”, a 15-year-old girl from Vietnam who started at the school in September 2017 failed to return after Christmas. 

All the schools and colleges identified followed protocol and reported the disappearances to police and the Home Office. All the children arrived in Britain on Tier 4 child visas, which are sponsored by schools and do not require an English language test.

A former teacher said: “At holidays they wouldn’t come back — there would be no answer on the phone. It was a loophole - someone realised this was a way of getting Vietnamese girls into the system.”

Astrum Education Group said that it had been targeted by “organised criminal activity”. It has reviewed safeguarding procedures. 

Malcolm Wood, principal of Abbey college, said: “We took this case extremely seriously. No failings by this college were found by any of the authorities who looked into this case.”

Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, called the revelations “truly shocking”. 

“To have children coming thousands of miles from home supposedly to learn but in fact being shipped into slavery in Britain is unthinkable,” she said.

She added that schools “need to take some responsibility for their recruiting”.

Boarding Schools' Association chief executive Robin Fletcher said in the past two to three years, boarding schools have been made aware of a "small number" of cases where there have been issues with students from Vietnam.

"A small number of criminals and rogue agents have tried to exploit the system and use some schools to traffic children," Mr Fletcher said. 

"On the very rare occasion this has happened our schools followed proper procedures, reporting to the Home Office and police, and worked with all agencies to track down and secure the welfare of the pupils involved.

"We have advised all our members to be vigilant when recruiting any students from Vietnam and have also worked with schools to inform the Home Office about any issues."

Some 666 independent schools have Home Office approval to sponsor overseas students for child visas. All the schools named passed Home Office inspections and remain licensed visa sponsors.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The safety and welfare of children is a key consideration of any child student application, with written consent from parents and evidence of adequate childcare arrangements required.”

The news comes less than two weeks after 39 migrants, who are believed to be Vietnamese, were found dead in a lorry in Grays, Essex. The discovery put a spotlight on international people trafficking gangs.

According to the Home Office, 702 potential Vietnamese victims of modern slavery were referred to the National Referral Mechanism in 2018.

Article from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/11/03/gangs-targeting-private-schools-traffic-asian-girls-britain/