Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fighting child trafficking at Heathrow Airport

If a child is illegally trafficked into the UK, the place the child often arrives is at the Heathrow airport. The authorities at the airport found that in the years 2006-07, 63 Chinese children arrived at the airport only to disappear moments later, it is believed to be the work of organized crime. Since 2007, the work of dedicated child care has been able to drop the number of missing children to four.

From the Luxbridge Gazette, writer Dan Coombs details what now happens to unaccompanied children once they arrive at the airport.

To understand how a child can slip through the cracks it is necessary to see what occurs when they first arrive.

Heathrow is a 24-hour airport and there is no respite from arrivals. Statistics show 90 per cent of unaccompanied children and young people touch down outside the hours of 9am-5pm.

Therefore a dedicated care team from Hillingdon is on call around the clock to respond rapidly if they receive a call from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) telling them a child in need has arrived.

Not every unaccompanied child is a victim of trafficking; many arrive genuinely to claim asylum. It is the job of UKBA to determine the specifics of each case, while Hillingdon's teams are needed to safeguard the welfare of the child, irrespective of the circumstances.

Speaking to councillors at last Thursday's policy overview meeting were Jane Graver, head of care at a residential home in the borough, and Paula Neil, the home manager.

Ms Graver said: "When a child arrives at Heathrow, immigration is their first point of contact and we work closely with the staff. We need to place the child immediately.

"We are there to offer support, especially in the first few days and weeks of their arrival, when they most need it. We are informed if the child may be high risk, and we do our own risk assessment. If they come with a phone, we may detain it."

For every story of illegally trafficked children, there is a success story. Recently the Gazette's Citizen of Courage award went to Akhtar Jan, now 23, who arrived unaccompanied at Heathrow aged 16, unable to speak English. Granted asylum, he went on to achieve A-level results good enough to gain him a place to study medicine at Queen Mary's University.

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