Albanian and Vietnamese children fleeing persecution and poverty are the children at the greatest risk of trafficking and modern slavery in Croydon, it has been claimed.
Now, a new project launched by Croydon Council and the International Organization for Migration will focus on supporting unaccompanied Albanian and Vietnamese child asylum seekers who are vulnerable to being trafficked or re-trafficked from care.
Research by charities Ecpat UK and Missing People found that of the 31 children identified as trafficking victims in Croydon from September 2014-2015, 20 per cent vanished from their foster homes. It is believed that many of many of these children return back to their traffickers.
Children from Albania and Vietnam are at higher risk of going missing and being trafficked as they as they are commonly linked to organised criminal gangs operating across the country.
The council’s new project provides specialist training for the foster carers who look after these children. A series of training sessions aim to increase the confidence and capacity of foster carers to look after child victims of trafficking and include specific cultural information on Albania and Vietnam. An online platform has been created for foster carers to access all the project information and resources in one place.
Extra support is provided for the children themselves to improve their understanding of foster care and the dangers of leaving care.
Modern slavery and trafficking in Croydon can involve sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced labour such as work on cannabis farms. Hetsia, a charity that supports victims of modern slavery in London, recorded 61 cases of modern slavery in Croydon last year – the highest number of any London borough.
A significant number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers are victims of trafficking and modern slavery or are at risk of becoming so. Croydon is home to 390 unaccompanied child asylum seekers, a higher number than any other council except Kent, because it is the location of the UK’s only asylum screening unit, Lunar House.
One of the foster carers who took part in the training programme, who cannot be named for protection purposes, said: “I am now aware of potential child trafficking indicators and sensitive to the meaning of young people’s behaviour. I feel that now I wouldn’t be so scared to look after a trafficked child.”
Speaking of the stigma against child asylum seekers who look older than 18, they said: “I went home after the training and studied my grandson’s picture, he is 15 now, but he could definitely look older to a person that doesn’t know him. So we really cannot rely on appearances when assessing age.”
Since the programme was launched last month, 52 foster carers have attended the training sessions, which will run until September 2018.
Oretha Wofford, Child Trafficking Lead for Croydon Council, said: “We are committed to reducing the risk of trafficked children going missing from care in Croydon and are pleased to be working with IOM on this initiative.”
“This project will help us to give appropriate, robust and culturally sensitive support to foster carers looking after children who are survivors of trafficking as well as the children themselves.”
Bharti Patel, the CEO of ECPAT UK, an NGO which works to protect children from child trafficking welcomed the Council’s new initiative.
“Trafficked and asylum seeking children are some of most vulnerable children in the UK and they need intensive levels of specialist support to help them recover and rebuild their lives”, she said.
“The young people we support have identified the need for knowledgeable carers and the support of advocates or guardians with whom they can build relationships of trust as one of key priorities for preventing missing episodes.”
Patel urged the government to support more initiatives like Croydon Council’s new project:
“Central Government should support local authorities by providing them with adequate resources. Government should urgently roll out nationally their programme of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates or Guardians for all trafficked and unaccompanied children”, she said.