An investigation into the disappearances began two weeks ago, amid fears that the children could be being exploited by the sex industry. Other theories are that they could be being used as cheap factory labour.
“The reason why these Chinese children seek asylum in Sweden is still unclear. Many other countries in Europe have had the same problem. We are now trying to understand what is happening,” Swedish prosecutor Hans Ihrman told Svenska Dagbladet.
The children have disappeared from The Swedish Migration Board’s apartments, after receiving instructions through mobile phones.
“They are well-dressed children, supplied with backpacks, mobile phones and cash. They seem to be immature and naïve, but are happy when we talk to them. All of them are eager to get cash-cards for their mobile phones and it seems they receive further instructions from there,” said Per Sörensen, chief of the Sweden’s Migration Board’s child and youth unit in Rotebro.
Patrik Engström, criminal inspector at the National Criminal Police Unit, says he has been aware that there was a problem since 1999, when he discovered that children were being fooled into coming to Sweden to attend schools that didn’t exist.
Last month, 18 people were arrested at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, suspected of being involved in the smuggling of Chinese children. The majority were Dutch citizens of Chinese extraction. As a result, six of the missing children were found. Since then, the number of Chinese children arriving in Sweden has decreased. Only three arrived in April; of these, one has already disappeared. The two that remain are 14 and 15 years old.
“I have talked to them twice about the disappearances. They say their goal is to stay in Sweden. But you see that they are anxious,” said Keleta Kibreab, a coordinator at the Swedish Migration Board.
Annika Åhnberg, chairwoman for Save the Children in Sweden, told news agency TT that the children have disappeared as a result of Sweden’s failure to care for them:
“We have long demanded that each refugee child be appointed one adult as their legal guardian. This could have been prevented the disappearances.”
Parliament will decide on Wednesday whether or not to change the law and give the children’s guardians increased authority. If the new law is approved, it could come into force by the first of July.