The (in)visible issue of missing unaccompanied minors


In 2013, 12.730 unaccompanied migrant minors (UAM) applied for asylum in the European Union. The number of UAM applications exceeds 11.000 since 2008 and crossed 12.000 already in 2012 (source: Eurostat). However, in order to have a clear picture of the presence of unaccompanied minors that have not (yet) being recognised the status of beneficiaries of international protection in the EU, we need to consider two additional facts.

First fact, a consistent number of unaccompanied minors does not apply for asylum in the Member State that registered their arrival. 13 Member State reported that in 2013 a total number of 12.465 unaccompanied children recognised by their authorities did not apply for asylum, mainly teenagers between 14-18 years old. This happens for two reasons: the minor may want to reach a contact person or a relative in another country than the country of arrival, or he/she is afraid to be sent back to the country of origin. Therefore, the child avoids to lodge an application. When the child is trying to reunify with family or a specific person, he or she may try to reach the other country as soon as possible – the application may be lodged in this country, if the child is able to arrive there. In other cases, the child may decide to use the help of “friends”, promising to provide for a job and protection. Unfortunately (second fact), the total amount of children crossing the EU borders unaccompanied remains unknown, due to underreporting and incoherent data management.

The escape of a lot of UAM from reception centres and the lack of precise and consistent practices to register data related to unaccompanied minors lead to the disappearance of a large number of children. While only the 2% of reported cases of missing children concerns UAMs , the problem is in reality much more important. For example, Frontex reported that in 2010, 60% of the unaccompanied children accommodated in social care centres in the UK are estimated to go missing and are not found again. Furthermore, Terres des Hommes reported in 2010 that up to half of unaccompanied migrant children vanish yearly from reception centres in Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland, mainly in the first 48 hours after their admission in the centres.

These numbers are only the top of the iceberg. Children start disappearing during the long and painful travels to reach Europe, when they often fall victims of trafficking, sexual exploitation, economic exploitation, smuggling and other crimes, perpetrated by extremely well organised and solid networks, active around the most used migratory routes. Once in Europe, unaccompanied children are contacted by other criminal organisations, prepared and trained to take advantage of both their situation of vulnerability and the gaps in the European protection system. For these reasons, the European Union adopted an Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors, which prioritizes the problem of missing unaccompanied minors.

SAVE THE DATE: Missing Children Europe organises a European Conference on Missing Unaccompanied Migrant Children on the 4th of December at the Renaissance Brussels Hotel, Brussels. You can find more information here.

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