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Faith Nyasuguta

Hundreds of unaccompanied child migrants across Europe are being coerced into working for increasingly powerful drug cartels to satisfy the continent’s growing demand for cocaine, according to a Guardian investigation.

EU police forces have raised alarms about the large-scale exploitation of African children by cocaine networks operating in western Europe, particularly in cities like Paris and Brussels, as these networks aim to expand Europe’s £10 billion cocaine market.

Child protection agencies have warned that these gangs, which have an “unlimited” supply of vulnerable African children at their disposal, use brutal methods such as torture and rape to control their victims if they fail to sell enough drugs. Sources told the Guardian that London may be the next target, as police recently discovered several Moroccan and Algerian children who appeared to be torture victims and were believed to have been trafficked by cocaine gangs.

The level of exploitation has raised significant concern. In March, EU police forces, along with UK and UN agencies and Europol, convened to discuss strategies to combat the exploitation and trafficking of African children by drug networks based in western Europe.


A recent assessment by EU police forces investigating serious organized crime and human trafficking concluded: “Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and France presented several concrete cases of the exploitation of hundreds of North African minors, recruited by drug trafficking networks to sell narcotics.” 

Some sources believe the true number of exploited children could be in the thousands. Latest police data revealed that 15,928 unaccompanied children arrived in Europe in 2022, many of whom subsequently went missing.

A document from the Belgian federal police for Europol stated: “Thousands of unaccompanied foreign minors cross the EU’s borders every year, disappearing without any traceable trail. Many of them are ‘captured’ by criminal circles to exploit them, which worsens their traumas.”

Eric Garbar, head of human trafficking and smuggling at the Belgian federal judicial police, is leading efforts to combat the exploitation of unaccompanied children by criminal networks. 

He said: “With African minors, essentially Moroccan and Algerian, the most important area is the exploitation by OCGs [organized crime groups] involved in criminal activities such as drug trafficking. What we have in the EU is an unstoppable low-cost human resource from Africa.”

Police have identified the Moroccan “Mocro Maffia” as a key exploiter of these children. This organization includes several of Europe’s largest cocaine trafficking cartels, which work directly with South American producers. 

Cocaine /Courtesy/

The Mocro Maffia is known to operate at the Belgian port of Antwerp, a major gateway for cocaine into Europe. The group is notoriously brutal, issuing threats to Belgium’s justice minister and, in the Netherlands, to the Dutch crown princess. Earlier this year, several members involved in gangland killings were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Evidence suggests that children are trafficked directly from Morocco to European cocaine networks, often lured by social media and false promises of a better life. “The Mocro Maffia understand that in their country of origin they have at their disposal unlimited human resources,” Garbar said.

Caroline Vrijens, the Flemish children’s rights commissioner, stated that African children are the “most vulnerable” in Europe and called for urgent action from authorities to address the issue.


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Faith Nyasuguta

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