At least 95,000 unaccompanied children are reported to have applied for asylum in Europe in 2015. These are among the most vulnerable of asylum seekers, and Europol estimated in January 2016 that at least 10,000 have gone missing after arriving in Europe, warning that some may have fallen prey to traffickers and criminal gangs.
In a recent vote in the British Parliament, the government defeated a move to force the UK to accept 3,000 child refugees from across continental Europe. The government warned that such a policy would create a “pull factor”, encouraging families to send their children out alone. Opposition parties, however, condemned the vote as inhumane, with Labour MP Yvette Cooper arguing that Britain should not be “turning its back” on “thousands of children… sleeping rough in Europe tonight, vulnerable to exploitation and abuse…”
So, what can European countries do? We had a comment sent in by Gabriel, saying: “Earlier this year, 10’000 refugee children were reported to have gone missing in the EU. What’s happening to them?”
To get a response, we put Gabriel’s question to Owen McCarthy from CalAid, a volunteer group working with people living in the refugee camps in Calais. What would he say to Gabriel?
For another perspective, we also spoke to Simon Ingram, Senior Communication Adviser, UNICEF Brussels. What would he say?
Well, obviously we are aware of those reports and are immensely troubled by them. And what they really underline is that children are indeed the biggest victims of this situation… It also points to the fact that we do not currently have a system set up in any European country which is sufficiently vigorous and well-built that it can monitor and track children arriving on the shores of Europe. The number you refer to – 10,000 children – is little more than a guesstimate, and to this day we really cannot say for sure how many children have slipped through the net.
It’s important to understand the reasons why they do slip through the net. Sometimes it is wilful, it is deliberate, and it’s because many of these children are boys who have been sent by their families deliberately with a view that they would find work and send money home to their families. And if they fear that by being registered they will lose that opportunity or will not be able to travel to the parts of Europe where they believe they will get the best working opportunities, then they will deliberately avoid being registered or talking to social workers who they might come across.
Now, there are other cases where children may actually be led astray, or fall prey to traffickers and others. We do know, anecdotally, that such criminal syndicates do operate in Europe. And we’re of course especially fearful of children who fall into the clutches of such organisations.
What can Europe do to help unaccompanied refugee children? Should more effort be made to monitor and track children applying for asylum in the EU? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Michael Davis-Burchat
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