LONDON: Currently, 200 children who arrived in Britain as asylum-seekers are missing from hotels run by the Home Office.
Some of the refugees abducted from outside hotels on the south coast have been trafficked and coerced into organized crime groups 260 miles away in north Manchester, an Observer investigation revealed.
According to one child protection source in Sussex, safety briefings on missing children discovered that some had “cropped up” in an area of Cheetham Hill known locally as “counterfeit alley” owing to its number of outlets selling counterfeit gear.
So far, Sussex police have located at least two children who went missing from Home Office hotels in the Greater Manchester Police area, The Observer reported. It is unknown how many people are still missing.
Neil Blackwood, a detective superintendent with the GMP, confirmed that the hotel network used to accommodate asylum-seekers was targeted by organized crime.
“They are brought to Cheetham Hill, scooped up by criminal enterprises and put to work,” Blackwood told The Observer.
The detective, who is leading an operation to eradicate organized crime from “counterfeit alley,” said the children were coerced into the most dangerous work, selling drugs.
“Some young Afghans appear to have been trafficked directly into the drugs market, sent to work in county lines,” he said.
The senior detective believes Afghanistan’s economic crisis following the West’s withdrawal in 2021 may also explain why teenagers ended up in Manchester’s drug trade.
Some of the child asylum-seekers taken from the south coast to Manchester may have even been abducted in a bid to force families to pay the cost of crossing the Channel by small boat, which Blackwood estimates can cost between £10,000 ($12,000) and £20,000.
“The past 12 months (have) seen a significant increase in the use of kidnap as a tool to demand payment for illegal immigration,” Blackwood said.
The human trafficking route from the south coast to Cheetham Hill is just one of many. Children who went missing from hotels in Kent have been found in Cleveland, Nottingham, West Yorkshire, and Merseyside, The Observer reported. Some have even been found outside the UK.
Manchester police are also currently investigating 13 and 14-year-old Middle Eastern asylum-seekers who were coerced into drug gangs shortly after arriving in the UK.
Experts agree that young asylum-seekers are frequently coerced into criminal activity, The Observer reported.
The Home Office says the welfare of minors in its care is an “absolute priority,” and when a child goes missing, a multi-agency team is assembled to determine their whereabouts.