Over 50,000 Unaccompanied Minor Migrants Vanished in Europe Over Three Years

Over 50,000 Unaccompanied Minor Migrants Vanished in Europe Over Three Years

By Noa Stoop

EU Team

Global Human Rights Defence

A shocking revelation has surfaced through research conducted by the journalist collective Lost in Europe, in collaboration with Belgian media sources including VRT, Knack, and De Standaard. Over the past three years, 51,433 children disappeared from asylum seeker centers across Europe, with their whereabouts currently unknown. This number represents a substantial rise from earlier years, indicating a worsening crisis among the migrant population in the region.

The crisis of disappearing unaccompanied minors within Europe has reached alarming proportions. From 2021 to 2023, more than 50,000 children who traveled alone to Europe and registered at asylum centers are now missing. This marks a drastic escalation from the 18,292 cases recorded between 2018 and 2020. In the Netherlands alone, out of 15,404 registered unaccompanied minor asylum seekers over the last three years, 850 have vanished.

Geesje van Haren of Lost in Europe believes "the real numbers are likely much higher" due to insufficient data from major countries like Greece, Spain, and France. The disappearance of these children raises serious concerns about their safety and well-being.

Between 2021 and 2023, Afghanistan was the origin country for at least one-third of the unaccompanied minors who disappeared in Europe. The influx of Afghan children increased after the Taliban seized control in August 2021. Other notable countries of origin for these children are Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco, as reported by the data from Lost in Europe. Most of these cases occurred in Italy (22,899 cases) and Austria (20,077 cases), with considerable incidences also reported in Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, suggesting a widespread problem throughout the continent.

Many of these young migrants choose to disappear to avoid deportation, inadvertently falling prey to human traffickers. They are often exploited in unlawful activities such as cannabis cultivation and forced prostitution. The Dutch system’s shortcomings in providing sufficient education, guidance, and daily activities leave these young migrants vulnerable to exploitation. In the Netherlands alone, out of 15,404 registered unaccompanied minor asylum seekers over the last three years, 850 have vanished. This issue is indicative of broader problems within the European Union’s migration framework, widely criticized as dysfunctional. Advocates argue that current EU policies, including the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, may worsen the situation by potentially including children in detention measures, heightening their risks of disappearance, abuse and trafficking.

There are plans underway to better track these minors through centralized European registration and fingerprint records. However, challenges persist, as criminals have been known to force minors to alter their fingerprints to evade detection. This underscores the complicated and dangerous situations these children face, emphasizing the need for improved actions to combat human trafficking, not merely smuggling.

The issue of missing unaccompanied minors in Europe is a dire humanitarian crisis that necessitates urgent and coordinated action.