In two and a half years, 44 minors of Vietnamese origin have disappeared in Belgium, the federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers, Fedasil, confirmed to Knack, Standaard and VRT NWS.
On arrival in Belgium, unaccompanied minors are received in an observation and orientation centre while verifications are conducted to determine whether they are really minors and direct them to the structures best suited to their needs.
In 2017, 12 Vietnamese minors disappeared from an observation and orientation centre, according to Fedasil. Fourteen went missing in 2018, and this year the tally is already 19.
Other than a teenager who received care as a possible victim of human trafficking, none of the minors have been found.
"The youths say they are minors, but since they disappear very quickly, there is no registration and their ages also cannot be determined,” Fedasil spokeswoman Mieke Candaele explained.
“The increasing figures are perhaps due to the fact that the police are conducting more and more actions during which they intercept migrants. Most of these youths do not request asylum. The only two who did so disappeared afterwards, all the same. Most disappear within 24 hours of their arrival in our network of shelters.”
According to the investigation by the Flemish media, Knack, De Standaard and VRT NWS, many young Vietnamese youths leave their country of origin with a tourist visa for Russia. From there, they travel illegally through Europe, generally with the aim of reaching the United Kingdom.
To be able to pay their traffickers amounts sometimes as high as 40,000 euros, they often work in beauty salons or marijuana plantations. A Europol report found that they are also preyed upon by criminal networks that exploit them as domestics, beggars or prostitutes.
In the past eight months, the National Social Security Office and Police checked 34 beauty salons, mainly in Brussels, Vilvoorde and Ostend. No fewer than 25 tickets were issued for non-declaration of employees and 15 for illegally employing foreign workers, mainly Vietnamese.
The Brussels Times