17 Vietnamese children missing from Australian immigration facilities

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Seventeen asylum seeking boys suspected of being trafficked from Vietnam have vanished from immigration facilities around Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald reported Jan 29.

The boys, mainly Catholics from northern Vietnam, arrived by boat on Christmas Island between June 2010 and May last year.

Despite most of them being missing for months, an investigation by The Sun-Herald has revealed police have not been searching for the children and the Vietnamese embassy in Canberra has been kept in the dark about their disappearance.

Before the boys, the youngest of whom is said to be 15, disappeared they told advocates their parents had been tricked into giving them into the custody of an older Vietnamese man promising them work and education in Australia.

Serious concerns have been raised about the sudden arrival of dozens of unaccompanied Vietnamese children as young as six. There are fears they may have been trafficked to Australia for illegal labor or for prostitution.

Nguyen The Phong, Federal President of Vietnam Community in Australia, said the Australian Department of Immigration had been trying to keep the disappearance quiet.

''It is quite alarming that children can disappear like that,'' he said. ''We don't know what is their situation and if they are living underground, then other adults might abuse them.''

However, the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Tony Negus, told Parliament the police were not investigating the disappearance of the children and did not hold any concerns for them from a ''trafficking perspective''. Inquiries had found no links to child-trafficking networks.

An AFP spokeswoman said the disappearance of the children was a matter for the Immigration Department. The children have not been reported as missing.

 The Sun-Herald has been told the man who sent the children, including his own daughter, by boat is already well known to authorities. He arrived by boat in 2009, was rejected as a refugee and returned to Vietnam.

The Australian Immigration Department has revealed that 36 children have gone missing or escaped from immigration centers across the country since July 2010.

Nineteen have since been found.

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