Dutch gov't knew about Vietnamese children disappearing from asylum centers for years: report
The Dutch government has known since 2015 that Vietnamese children are disappearing from asylum shelters in the Netherlands - agencies involved in the care of unaccompanied child asylum seekers have regularly reported signals of human trafficking and people smuggling over the past five years, investigative journalism program Argos reported based on quarterly reports from the protected reception locations Jade and Xonar.
In December 2018, then Justice State Secretary Mark Harbers told parliament that he received no information "that a smuggling network is involved in the disappearance of minor Asian migrants". He also referred to a police investigation, called PASADENA, saying that the investigation into the trafficking of minor Vietnamese migrants did not find any signs of committed crimes.
But according to Argos, Harbers was wrong on both those statements. In the second quarter of 2015, protected shelter Jade already noted a "trend" of Vietnamese minors disappearing, reporting to the agency responsible for the reception of asylum seekers in the Netherlands COA that 100 percent of Vietnamese minors who came to the shelter disappeared with no trace of where they went. Quarterly reports from the two shelters show that they also raised concerns about disappearing Vietnamese children in 2017 and 2018.
The reports in Argos' possession also show that the police's PASADENA investigation into these disappearing children lasted only two months. Two detectives visited the protected shelters in mid-February 2016 to gather information in preparation for the investigation. And in the second half of April 2016, the shelter staff were informed that the investigation had been stopped. And not because no crimes were found, Argos reports. The police noted "clear" signals of human smuggling, likely organized from Vietnam. "To enter into a partnership with Vietnam on this is very difficult, if not impossible. Because of this, it has been decided to stop this investigation," the police said, according to Argos.
When asked about Harbers' apparently false statements to parliament, a spokesperson for current Justice State Secretary Ankie Broekers-Knolw told Argos that "two new investigations were recently completed on the departure of unaccompanied minors (including Vietnamese minors) from (protected) shelter." Broekers-Knol will share the results with the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, "soon", the spokesperson said.
The Ministry told Argos that investigations did not lead to the establishment of criminal offenses. "Investigation has not led to concrete evidence of the involvement of a specific smuggling network in the departure of Vietnamese unaccompanied minors," the Ministry said to the program. "Furthermore, the investigation had yielded insufficient indications of trafficking in human beings."
Over the past decade, more than 2,500 children disappeared from asylum centers in the Netherlands, NRC reported in January based on figures from the COA and guardianship institution Nidos. The COA registered these children as left "with an unknown destination".