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Nearly a dozen Vietnamese children have gone missing in the United Kingdom due to trafficking in the last few years, a recent report claims.
The minors — most of whom are girls, some as young as 15 — reportedly enter the country through legitimate visas sponsored by private schools.
Allegedly recruited by trafficking groups, the children pay for a term of school before mysteriously disappearing a few weeks or months into their studies.
The students reportedly end up working in brothels, nail salons, cannabis farms, and homes for domestic service, while others simply vanish without a single trace.
At least 21 Vietnamese children have gone missing from private schools across the country in the last four years, The Times reported.
Eight of them have enrolled at Chelsea Independent College, a London boarding school operated by Astrum Education that charges £25,000 (about $33,000) a year.
According to a former staff member, one girl ran away in the middle of the night through a fire escape.
Another case involves a 16-year-old girl from Abbey College in Worcestershire who enrolled in September 2017. She disappeared after Christmas and ended up working at a nail salon in Yorkshire less than a month later.
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The students reportedly arrived in the U.K. on Tier 4 child visas, which are sponsored by their schools and do not require an English language test, according to The Times.
They allegedly paid £5,000 (about $6,580) to £10,000 (about $13,150) for the first term of school, living in dormitories or with their host families before disappearing.
Vietnamese young adults are also suspected of being trafficked in the U.K., such as one 26-year-old woman who allegedly died with 38 others in a refrigerated trailer in Essex in October.
The suspected deceased, identified as Pham Thi Tra My, paid £30,000 (about $39,500) to smugglers to get her to Britain, her brother Pham Ngoc Tuan told the BBC.
“I’m sorry, mum. My journey abroad hasn’t succeeded,” Pham told her mother in a supposed final text message, which was seen by The Guardian. “Mum, I love you so much! I’m dying because I can’t breathe.”
After the tragic deaths, at least two other Vietnamese families reported having relatives missing: a 19-year-old woman and a 26-year-old man.
Unfortunately, Vietnam remains a top source for modern slaves in the U.K., with at least 3,000 victims having been identified since 2009.
Anti-slavery groups have also come forward to accuse European countries of failing to spot or protect Vietnamese children suspected of being trafficked amid a growing anti-immigrant sentiment.
“The extent of abuse children trafficked from Vietnam to Europe suffer is shocking,” said Jasmine O’Connor, chief executive of Anti-Slavery International, according to Reuters.
“By the time they arrive in the United Kingdom, the vast majority have been mercilessly exploited along the way.”
Schools named by The Times in its report have all passed Home Office inspections and remain licensed to sponsor visas.
“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,” a spokesperson from the department said.
Representatives of the schools echoed the policy, including London’s DLD College, which reportedly lost three Vietnamese female students.
“The safety and well-being of our students has always been our No. 1 priority,” said the college, which has revised its admission and sponsorship policy for Vietnam.