A PIONEERING service supporting traumatised young people who have been trafficked to Scotland, as well as refugee children arriving in the country on their own, is seeing record numbers in need of their help.

The Scottish Guardianship Service, run by children’s charity Aberlour in partnership with the Scottish Refugee Council, is concerned by the numbers of young trafficking victims it is seeing, arriving from countries such as Vietnam. Often children are brought to the country either against their will or believing they will have a better life, but are forced to work in cannabis farms or nail bars.

Guardians, who support children to navigate life in Scotland when they have arrived without their parents, have been seeing up to two new arrivals a day and have also noticed an increase in Kurdish young people from Iran and Iraq. The service estimates about 44% of the young people using its service have been trafficked, but admits that the true number may be higher.

Other young people come from countries including Afghanistan, Nigeria and China. Trafficked young people can be forced into bonded labour or even the sex trade.

Catriona MacSween, manager of the service, said that she could only speculate about the reason for the increase. However, earlier this year there were reports that trafficking gangs were trying to get people into Britain before it left the European Union.

She told the Sunday National: “We’ve had the biggest increase ever in the project’s history of young people arriving. We are still finding a lot of Vietnamese cases, and a lot of Kurdish young people from Iraq and Iran. Last year was our biggest year – we had 81 new presentations. We’re already up at 93 this year and it’s been pretty much two a day recently.

“We are incredibly stretched in trying to deal with it.”

Young people being supported by guardians have usually come to Scotland by boat and over land and may have experienced violence and abuse on the journey. The trauma is further compounded by those who have been trafficked, added MacSween.

The service is only funded to look after 60 young people but is currently looking after a total of 200. In 2015 the Scottish Parliament passed the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act, which places the service into law and puts a duty on public bodies to refer to the service. The new figures come ahead of a European Guardianship Network conference due to take place in Glasgow tomorrow. Organised by Nidos – the Dutch equivalent – it will bring together guardians from across Europe to hear about Scotland’s work and share insights.

Graham Marshall, a guardian with the service, said his role was to offer consistent support and independent advocacy for each young person arriving alone in Scotland, explaining everything from the care system to the role of the Home Office and the National Referral Mechanism for those who have been trafficked. The services also organises social events for the children.

He said: “I think all the young people we work with are looking for safety, and to start their lives over again. We help them to do that. We never over-promise, we are consistent and young people really get to know us.

“They might change their social worker or accommodation, but we are an adult that they can begin to trust. We aim to be there by their side.”

But he is concerned by the time constraints caused by the rapid increase in demand. “We have less time to spend with each young person which makes it harder to do early intervention work,” he added. “It makes a big difference if we can meet a young person early in the process.”

DETECTIVE Chief Inspector Rory Hamilton of Police Scotland’s Human Trafficking Unit said: “Scotland has well-developed child protection mechanisms to ensure that any child at risk of harm receives the support they need and this includes children identified as potential trafficking victims.

“Police Scotland works alongside the Scottish Government and other key agencies to raise awareness of trafficking within local communities through engagement with community partnerships and the network of local police and partner Human Trafficking Champions.

“By raising public awareness and understanding of the signs of trafficking, Police Scotland and its partners hope to identify when people may have been trafficked and tackle those who choose to exploit people.”

Last year concerns emerged that under the UK’s immigration system some trafficking victims were facing a “protection gap” and not being granted leave to remain. Human trafficking is the fastest growing global crime, with an estimated 45 million enslaved around the world.