Police hunt for parents of deserted Ethiopian

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The Independent Online

The only response the Ethiopian girl would give to police trying to find out how she had been abandoned at a Tube station was that her parents were fine and she would see them again one day.

The only response the Ethiopian girl would give to police trying to find out how she had been abandoned at a Tube station was that her parents were fine and she would see them again one day.

Perhaps she was repeating the words of reassurance given by her parents before she left her home 3,700 miles away.

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police appealed for help in tracing her origins, frustrated by the 10-year-old's inability or unwillingness to reveal much about herself. Officers believe the girl may have been left in Britain deliberately in the hope that she would have a better life.

Almost 3,000 unaccompanied children from all over the world apply for asylum in this country each year, a sharp increase since the mid-1990s.

The Ethiopian girl, officers said, seemed to have been taught what to say and refused to tell them where she was from or even, officers suspect, her real name. All she would reveal was that, upon leaving her parents, she had flown with a male family friend from Addis Ababa to Heathrow. They travelled to Kingsbury Tube station, where he left her, promising to return quickly. He never did.

She was found in late November, crying and alone, by an Ethiopian taxi driver, who took her to social services.

An officer at the Barnet Police Child Protection Team said: "It appears she was well briefed that she should not say anything. She would not give many details. She just said her Mum and Dad would not be worried about her"

At first, the child protection unit at Barnet believed her case to be unique, certainly unusual, until they discovered that a number of youngsters had been left outside Tube stations in Kensington.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea confirmed that it was looking after 50 children from Africa, half the number of unaccompanied minors in the council's care.

"We have received a steady trickle of unaccompanied minors from Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa. This started in about 1990 and continues to this day. It is an issue common to all inner and some outer London boroughs, many of which are worse affected than Kensington and Chelsea," he said.

One Ethiopian community worker said: "It is very sad. The parents perhaps still have this vision that the streets are lined with gold, and the reality doesn't live up to that. They just think they are doing their best for the children."

Ephrem Mehret-ab, of the Ethiopian embassy, disagreed: "The culture and social interaction in Ethiopia means extremely close families. Even if parents can't afford to manage their children, for economic reasons, they will always be helped by immediate family."

Alemayehu Dessie of the Ethiopian Community in Britain, estimated approximately 17,000 of his countrymen, live in Britain and was convinced that any parent sending their child to this country must have been driven by desperate measures.

He said: "Who would abandon their own child? Sending a child to this country is very expensive. There are excellent schools in Addis Ababa. If the parents can afford the transportation here they can afford the schools. There may be people who want to send children away because of different problems, the parents are imprisoned or have died."

In the meantime, police are hopeful about tracing the origin of the abandoned girl. She is in the care of foster parents and has started to go to school.

A police spokesman said that leads generated by publicity led them to believe she may have been brought to the UK in early autumn before being abandoned in November.

But officers said they were still open-minded as to the reasons why a young girl was left deserted in the heart of London.