Somali Boy, 15, lost in London

I was 15 and fled because of fighting. The fixer got me a passport, and took me to the airport in Kenya. He told me to say he is my father; he taught me a whole new identity and told me to remember that my name is Liban now… He travelled with me on the plane.

We arrived in Paris. He told me to join another group, who would take me to Britain. He took me through the airport and [into Calais, where] I stayed in a small hotel. He handed me over to two other people, Africans. I was very, very scared, and thought a lot about my family. I thought I would not survive. Eventually, we were given another passport, and we were taken to the Euro train. We were put on the train, but in Calais the police told us to get off because
our documents were not valid. One African took us back… He told us to try again.

After two days we went back to the Calais train station, and this time it worked. The police did see us, but they couldn’t get us off because the train was already moving. On the train, some other officials gave me a form to fill. At Waterloo, in Britain, they called me off the train and took me to an immigration office.

There was one policewoman there, and they got a Somali interpreter. They interviewed me for about three hours. They asked me if there was anyone I knew in Britain, and I gave them the number of a cousin. He came and took me to his house – but I soon learnt that my cousin had no money and was in a difficult situation…

Now I am in a hostel with my cousin. I know my family is in Kampala [Uganda]… I am trying to do a family reunion for them. But there has been no answer…A lawyer told me recently that I don’t have the right for a reunion because I am the wrong age and I don’t have good accommodation.

This is an account of a Somali boy who was taken to London by an agent, paid by his family. It is document in a report entitled A Gap In their Hearts, The report explains how Somali parents, in Somalia, often pay agents money to take their children to a variety of western European countries, often unaccompanied by a family member (Hannan, 2003, p6). Hannan (2003, p13) notes that, “Many of the separated Somali children arriving in Europe are coming from areas affected by insecurity or actual conflict in southern Somalia and Mogadishu, but children are also sent from peaceful post-conflict areas”. Hannan (2003, p16) reports that, ‘According to figures from immigration sources in Europe, more Somali boys were arriving in Europe in the early to mid 1990s…. However, by the late 1990s, there was a demonstrable change in the trend, with an increasing number of unaccompanied girls being sent abroad.” Families take a calculated economic gamble with sending their children abroad. Amina Haji Emli, founder and director of the Institute for the Education and Development of Women in Mogadishu, told Lucy Hannan (2003, p15) that ‘Parents are selling their house and moving in with relatives to send their children’. Hannan (2003, p6) notes that “Deception, pressure and force are used by family members and smugglers to make Somali children adopt false identities, use fraudulent documents and travel abroad”.

The process through which Somali children are taken abroad with agents who facilitate their transfer is known to the police and the law courts as smuggling, trafficking and is considered a criminal offence. There are five ways in which Somali children are smuggled into London.

The first, and most common one, according to research report  A Gap In their Hearts, involves the use of a legitimate passport issued to a Somali child with British nationality. The agent “borrows” the passport in Britain for about $720 – or 500 pounds sterling – and takes it to Mogadishu. There, he screens children and selects those with vaguely corresponding facial features. Sometimes, boys are passed for girls and vice-versa. “Sometimes what happens is you have a passport for a 15 year old girl, and you have to take out a 13 year old boy,” explained one of the staff of an NGO operating in Mogadishu – “the boy has to dress like a girl”. Agents confirmed that this has been successful as a strategy.

The second most common method involves filing a claim for a lost passport through the post, but submitting a different – but similar – picture. The request apparently takes only a few weeks to process, with no contact ever taking place between immigration officials and the applicants. 

The third, and most risky technique works through a racket inside European immigration offices, the agent said. “Virgin” passports are stolen, photographs attached, necessary stamps added, and then sold to the smugglers. The passports are genuine documents, but the identities they eventually acquire have no legitimacy. When they are put through a computer, the passports will betray the false identity. “I had two girls the other day, and they [immigration officials] did a check on the computer and we had to come back,” the agent said. He was evasive when pressed on the fate of the girls.

A fourth method is to assume false paternity or maternity of the children, who are then placed on the “parents’” passport.

Finally, another method involves manipulating rights regarding unification of families. Agents of both sexes claim the right to be rejoined with false spouses, and then apply for citizenship.

The research report A Gap In their Hearts, involved an interview conducted by Lucy Hannan with a smuggler, who identified five ways in which he could smuggle Somali children into London.

In 2003 the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs commissioned this report from the Integrated Regional Information Networks to better understand the business of smuggling Somali children into western europe and north america.

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