Thousands of young refugees 'fall prey to sex gangs'

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Nearly half of the refugee children fleeing torture, persecution or violence arrive in Britain alone and have no family or friends to turn to, new research suggests.

Nearly half of the refugee children fleeing torture, persecution or violence arrive in Britain alone and have no family or friends to turn to, new research suggests.

Many are now being forced to escape through unofficial sex traffic routes, a move that leaves them vulnerable to appalling abuse, because of the lack of established resettlement programmes.

A report published today says as many as 100,000 children are arriving in Britain and the rest of Western Europe, although experts in the field believe the figure could be as high as 250,000. The latest official figures for Britain show that 3,350 unaccompanied children are arriving each year from the Far East and eastern Europe.

The report, commissioned by Save the Children and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, highlights the growing vulnerability of these children who are on the run from torture or violence, as there are no longer organised resettlement programmes to rescue young people from war and conflict zones.

David Wright, a consultant for Save the Children, said: "In the 1970s, Vietnamese children were brought to Britain as part of a United Nations controlled process. But now children, who are sent away by their parents who pay for their passage, are being forced to travel on the sex traffic routes, which leaves them far more vulnerable."

The report shatters the illusion that children are coming to Western Europe in search of wealth.

Wendy Ayotte, an international expert on refugees, and the report's author said: "Many have witnessed the death, imprisonment or disappearance of loved ones. In some cases they are the victims of Western Europe's burgeoning sex industry. Enough is enough. We want to see European governments do more to protect these very vulnerable children."

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