Somalis pay £6,000 to have children smuggled to Europe

Declan Walsh
Saturday 18 January 2003 01:00
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Desperate Somali parents are paying up to $10,000 (£6,000) to have their children smuggled to Europe where many are dumped in airport lounges, railway stations and phone booths, a United Nations report says.

Britain is a favoured destination of the sophisticated smuggling rings that spirit hundreds of Somali youngsters, mostly teenagers, past immigration controls every year.

Somalia's vicious clan war, which started in 1991, has forced many parents to "export" their children in search of a violence-free life and a decent education. But all many find is loneliness, exploitation and, in the worst cases, a life of prostitution and crime, says the report by the Nairobi office of the UN information service.

The unscrupulous Somali smugglers employ a variety of ruses, ranging from "hiring" legitimate British passports from other Somalis at £500 a head to using bogus papers. Fake stories and names are invented, and boys may be disguised as girls.

The smuggling fee doubled to $7,000 after 11 September. Older children, considered more risky, cost $10,000. Sometimes corrupt Western officials are involved. Former immigration "consultants" sell their insider expertise, and some Somali smugglers claim British officials sold them virgin passports.

"This is a far-flung network, not just Somali smugglers," said the report's author, Lucy Hannan. Once inside the target country, the children are handed to other smugglers or abandoned in a public place, such as an airport lounge, where police will eventually discover them.

The racket highlights the sharp growth in the smuggling of unaccompanied minors to Europe in recent years. The UK is one of the most popular destinations because of its large Somali community and generous welfare payments.

Parents want their children to get good schooling and to earn enough to send money home. But the pressures of an alien, sometimes hostile, environment means their dream often goes unrealised. Ilhan, who entered Sweden with 15 other children in 1995, said just two completed their education.

"Some got pregnant, some became alcoholics, some are on drugs and some ended up in juvenile centres," she said.

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