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UK: Sex-trade children flown to region

Publish Date: 10 Nov 2005

Source: Yorkshire Post Today
By Paul Jeeves
Sex-trade children flown to region
Traders in misery try to avoid detection by switching to smaller airports
GLOBAL crime syndicates have begun to use Yorkshire airports to evade detection to bring child prostitutes into the country in their multi-billion pound trade in human misery.
The criminal gangs behind the smuggling rings, which stretch as far afield as Africa, the Far East and across Europe, have switched their focus to smaller airports as they attempt to escape the attention of the authorities.

Britain's largest airports have been exploited in the past, but immigration officials at Heathrow and Gatwick are becoming increasingly aware of the smuggling rackets and have introduced more stringent screening procedures to identify potential human traffickers.

Jane Dykins, head of the children's section at the Refugee Council, told the Yorkshire Post that the criminals behind human trafficking rings were continually honing their techniques to carry out the lucrative trade.

The problem was highlighted at a conference in York yesterday, and Miss Dykins said there was growing evidence that smuggling gangs had spread their operations into regional airports.
Yorkshire is a known base for traffickers and in March three illegal immigrants from Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo were jailed at Sheffield Crown Court for a total of 38 years for helping to smuggle a girl aged 15 into Britain before she was raped and forced into prostitution.

Last month two Eastern European men and a woman were also locked up at Sheffield Crown Court for a total of 48 years for their part in the trafficking and sexual exploitation of two Lithuanian teenagers.

It is understood children as young as 12 have been brought to Britain to work as under-age vice girls, and in at least one case a four-year-old became embroiled in a paedophile ring.

The children are often held in a vice-like grip of fear by the traffickers, who conduct a campaign of intimidation to ensure they do not approach the authorities.

Last year South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Humberside were among the first regional forces to receive £2.5m to tackle trafficking under a Government initiative to combat immigration crime, called Project Reflex.

South Yorkshire Deputy Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on Project Reflex, said he was aware of several cases of traffickers using regional air-ports, including Newcastle.

He said: "Organised crime is a multi-headed beast – it is a serpent which changes its form all the time. If it can find a way to make money, then it will. Our tactics need to change to keep pace with the traffickers.

"Anything to do with the trafficking of children is a major concern for everyone. But the more information which we can obtain, then the easier it will be to combat it."

Exact figures on how many women and children are trafficked to Britain have proved extremely difficult to collate.

But globally the United Nations has put a £3.6bn price tag on the crime, ranking it alongside the trade in guns and drugs, and the European Commission believes up to 500,000 people are trafficked into Europe each year.

Eastern European nations remain the main source, with budget airlines providing cheap fares. But Vietnamese and African children are among those being brought illicitly to British shores.

Young boys are also known to have been sold into prostitution, although they are often used in other criminal activity such as the drugs trade and credit card fraud.

Miss Dykins said: "There needs to be a more co-ordin-ated response but it is an ext-remely difficult area to en-sure we protect the victims and prosecute the traffickers.

"The people behind the trafficking move to other parts of the country as soon as they are detected. We are aware they are using reg-ional airports to bring people into the country because they have begun to be discovered at the big airports, like Heathrow and Gatwick.

"But we are not criticising anyone; it is an extremely difficult thing to monitor."

A national register for unaccompanied children is among proposals put forward by the Refugee Council to provide information when youngsters go missing.

The murky underworld of child prostitution has seen many victims vanish even when the authorities are aware that they are in Britain and at risk.

New legislation under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration Act of 2004 has seen tougher jail sentences introduced for trafficking.

A Home Office spokesman also said the Immigration Service is introducing regional intelligence units to monitor human trafficking.

But Lynne Chitty, an independent consultant and trainer in methods to prevent trafficking, maintained the situation had not improved significantly.

Mrs Chitty, who spoke at the conference, said: "It is about awareness and raising the issue, but people have to start to care about what happens to these children.

"There is often a lot of negative coverage about asylum seekers. But these are children first, and asylum seekers second. They need as much support and help as can be given."
Copyright © 2005 Johnston Press New Media.