The Dutch government has known for over five years that Vietnamese children go missing from protected shelters. Signs of human smuggling and trafficking have also been clearly reported to authorities. This is shown by quarterly reports of protected reception centres Jade and Xonar, that Argos and Lost in Europe have obtained.

The disappearance of Vietnamese minors is identified as a 'trend' in the quarterly report of the Dutch healthcare organization Jade Zorggroep in 2015. Jade at the time was responsible for the protected shelter of underage asylum seekers who were at high risk of becoming human trafficking victims, or who had become victims already. ‘This is a group for which the MOB-percentage (the percentage that disappears ‘with unknown destination’, ST) is hundred percent’, reports Jade after a year in which every Vietnamese child went missing from the shelter. 'This group is very hard to 'deprogram', the report continues. 'We try to keep this group in the secured shelter for as long as possible in order to obtain all of the information we can and pass it on to the EMM (Expert Centre for Human Trafficking and People Smuggling).'

Smugglers on the doorstep

In the second quarter of 2015 again four Vietnamese girls went missing from the Jade shelter. Employees identified clear signs of human trafficking. The girls had ‘brown suitcases of the same brand, a lot of cash and phones without sim cards. Two of the girls carried sexy lingerie in their suitcases. They dyed their hair before leaving.’

The protected shelter took several precautions in order to prevent disappearances: they added an intern with Vietnamese heritage to the team, hired extra night guards and security. The minors were placed together or were intentionally placed separately. In 2016, Jade Care Group reported: ‘All of these measures have not been able to prevent further disappearances.’ The shelter ‘tentatively concludes’ that: ‘the pressure put on these minors must be high, at least when they’ve set a pick-up date, because the minors go to great lengths in order to leave the centre’.

In the subsequent years they tried ‘educating’ the minors. After arriving in the shelters Vietnamese youths are immediately ‘confronted with what’s possibly awaiting them in the UK’, by use of videos showing forced labour on cannabis plantations and in nail salons. That didn’t work either. ‘Continuous deployment, for a longer period of time, of night guards [and] security is however financially unattainable.’

In the next quarterly report Jade Care Group continued to focus on the disappearances of Vietnamese minors. Employees literally saw people smugglers standing on the centre’s doorstep: ‘Pick-up cars come pretty close to the locations in order for the minors to get away from the centre fairly quickly.’ The report describes a particular day when a car drove from the bushes onto the lawn in front of the shelter. Two girls got in. It happened so fast that ‘the mentor and neighbour of the care home weren’t able to catch the license plate’. The license plate of another car did get noted. In it were three Asian people. The police even pulled this car over and looked at the navigation system. ‘In it they saw 2 addresses: of [location of protected reception centre in the north of Holland] and Xonar (the protected reception centre in Limburg, ST).’

The reception centres made note of CCTV footage showing ‘help was even organized from the outside. During the night things were brought in through the bedroom window.’ The footage from Xonar shows ‘the Vietnamese girls running away from the centre barefoot’.

Locked up in Germany

At the beginning of this month a human trafficking network was shut down in Germany. Police suspects they are responsible for the trafficking of at least 160 Vietnamese to Germany. According to Europol the Vietnamese were held captive and forced into unpaid labour in order to pay off their debt to the human smugglers. The amounts are usually between 5000 to 20.000 euros per person.

Lost in Europe-associate Adrian Bartocha of the German RBB was present during the arrests. His report can be found at the RBB.


House of Representatives briefed incorrectly

The continued dissapearance of young Vietnamese asylumseekers has been debated between organizations involved in the placement of minors in protected shelters. Actions towards local police, team human trafficking North, the EMM and International Organization for Migration (IOM) were undertaken.

The information provided in the quarterly reports differs from statements made by former Secretary of Justice and Security Mark Harbers. When Argos discovered in 2018 that at least sixty Vietnamese children had gone missing in five years, Harbers informed MP's that ‘at this moment there is no known information suggesting that a network of smugglers is involved in the disappearance of underage Vietnamese migrants’.

Pasadena investigation

The Secretary also made several references to the police investigation PASADENA. Harbers: ‘Previous investigations into human trafficking and/or smuggling of underage Vietnamese that disappeared from the secured reception centres did not prove any punishable acts.’ In the subsequent debates within the House of Representatives Harbers continued to emphasize that there were ‘not enough indications for further investigation’ of human trafficking and human smuggling.

The quarterly reports however show that the PASADENA-investigation only lasted two months. In mid-February of 2016 two detectives visited the protected reception centre in order to obtain information to prepare the investigation. In the second half of April the employees working at the reception centre were told that the investigation had come to an end.

The reports also show that during the short-lived investigation the police did in fact conclude that ‘human smuggling is apparent’, as opposed to the statements made in the House, and organized from Vietnam. ‘To start cooperating on this with Vietnam is very difficult, if not impossible. As such, it has been decided to terminate this investigation.’

Vietnamese continue to disappear

In March of last year, the entire House of Representatives requested an investigation into the disappearances of Vietnamese children from the protected reception centres. This investigation was executed by the Expertise Centre EMM. ‘It is important to have a clear picture of the problem prior to possibly taking any measures’, stated Secretary of Justice and Security Ankie Broekers-Knol in February of this year, in response to questions posed by the House of Representatives. The results of this investigation are expected later this week.

Vietnamese minors continued to disappear frequently during the EMM-investigation. ‘At the end of May three Vietnamese boys were supposed to be placed’, can be read in the second quarterly reports of reception centre Xonar. ‘However, they got into a taxi before going to afterschool care and haven’t been found back.’ In the third quarterly report a similar incident is described. In July three Vietnamese boys were on their way to the Xonar centre. ‘Later that day the taxi driver called to say that the minors ran out of the taxi at a traffic light. The minors still had their own money and phones which had been returned to them in Ter Apel (the main reception centre, ST.).’

As reported in the Dutch Newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, two girls and four boys ran away from a Limburg shelter in August. During the entire day the employees suspected that the group would attempt to flee, but weren’t able to stop them, nor were they allowed to do so. A police chase, with the use of a helicopter, was not successful.

Deceased boy helped the police

On the 11th of October  two more Vietnamese boys disappeared from the protected reception centre in Limburg. ‘The departure was relatively unexpected and made a great impact on both the other  inhabitants and the mentors.’ These boys had been staying at the centre for a longer period of time. ‘After the disappearance of their fellow countrymen earlier this year they decided to stay and even wanted to file a police report. One of the minors was even willing to talk to the aliens police department in order to provide them with information about the route that the group that had left took.’

One of the boys died after leaving. He was one of the 39 Vietnamese that were found dead in the refrigerated back of a lorry in British Essex. The temperature aboard the closed off container had risen to over 38 degrees. Panic ensued. The people on board couldn’t breathe. The inside of the container was filled with bloody palm prints.

‘The missing and suspected death of one of the two disappeared Vietnamese boys had a deep impact on the other boys and their mentors’, reports Xonar to the COA. ‘Mentors felt powerless (and perhaps also doubted the significance of the shelter for these minors). (…) One of the mentors has received professional after care, as she felt personally responsible for the disappearances and because of this ended up in default for a short period of time.’

Why did the Secretary tell the executive authorities that there wasn’t any information regarding a network of smugglers involved in the disappearance of underage migrants? How does that answer compare to the contents of the quarterly reports of the protected reception centres? And what does the government think of the fact that last year more than ten Vietnamese went missing from the protected shelters once again?

A spokesperson for current Secretary of State for Justice and Security Ankie Broekers-Knol has provided a reaction:

‘Amv’s (unaccompanied minor aliens) that form a known risk of disappearing are put in the protected reception centres. Within these centres there is extra security and monitoring in place, in order to protect the minors within the shelter from persons with bad intentions. In addition, a multidisciplinary risk analysis of the vulnerabilities of these minors is used within the shelters. The minors do have the option to leave the protected shelters if they really wish to do so, as the shelter is not a detention centre.

Because strong suspicions of human smuggling and human trafficking remain, two new investigations on departures of minors (including Vietnamese) from (protected) shelters with unknown destination have been completed recently. The results shall be sent to the House of Representatives shortly, including a reaction of the Secretary of Justice and Security.

The ministry states that the investigations have not led to the identification of punishable acts.

‘Investigation did not bring up any concrete evidence for the involvement of a specific smuggling network in the departures of Vietnamese unaccompanied minors from protected shelters. […] In addition, the inquiry provided insufficient indications for further investigations into human trafficking.’

Human trafficking arrests

The Dutch public prosecutor’s office and border police have known about human smuggling by Vietnamese since at least 2017. In that year they arrested three suspects of Vietnamese heritage after receiving a tip from France. In January of this year, two suspects were sentenced by the court in Zwolle. The case file shows how one of the suspects smuggled three girls and a boy (two of whom were underage) from France to The Netherlands in 2016. Phone records show that this person had also called a girl who stayed in protected reception centre Jade. A few months before, on the night of the 15th to the 16th of June 2016, an underage boy goes missing from the protected shelter in Rolde (Drenthe). The suspect’s phone was nearby.

Lost in Europe

Argos is one of the initiating parties of Lost in Europe, an international collective of investigative journalists that looks into how it has been possible for thousands of  refugee children to disappear after arriving in Europe, and what has happened to them afterwards.