Number of refugee children missing in EU rises amid growing concern for their fate

Orient Net - Agencies 2016-05-19 13:48:00

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Last year, 420 minors who arrived in Sweden without their parents left their asylum homes without reporting their departure to authorities, according to Stockholm’s county administration board.

And officials raised concerns on Thursday about the rising number of disappearances in 2016, which is already well on its way to breaking last year’s record. A total of 313 are currently missing, according to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

“How will you find food? How will you get money? For an adult to give you money they might demand a quid pro quo, such as sexual services or committing crimes,” Kjell-Terje Torvik, who works with children for the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket), told SvD.

While some choose to return to their home countries, he said it was often difficult to say why the minors leave their temporary accommodation in Sweden, adding that it varies depending on their stage in the asylum application process, The Local reported.

“If the disappearance comes after a decision, it is often triggered by an asylum rejection, but if it happens before a decision it is not as certain what triggered it,” said Torvik, who claims that many of the unaccompanied refugee children end up on the street, often falling victim to prostitution or crime.

“The number is concerning, but it is also not clear because you don’t know the reason for their disappearance. But of course there is a risk that prostitution would rise when the children have no money, no structures and nowhere to live,” police officer Christian Froden told the newspaper.

Migration authorities have previously said they expect a surge in the number of asylum seekers going underground in the next three years, estimating the number at as many as 46,000, including adults.

Criminal gangs are taking advantage of Europe’s migration crisis to force more people into sex work and other types of slavery, The Guardian reported an EU report on human trafficking.

Children have become a preferred target for traffickers, the report warns, amid growing concern over the fate of unaccompanied child refugees who have disappeared from official view since arriving in Europe.

Almost 96,000 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in Europe in 2015, about one-fifth of the total number of child refugees. But at least 10,000 unaccompanied children have dropped off the radar of official agencies since arriving in Europe, the EU police agency reported in January. German authorities reported earlier this year that 4,700 children had been lost to officials, while up to 10 children a week are reported missing in Sweden.

The report from the European commission, which will be published on Thursday, does not attempt to estimate how many may have fallen victim to criminal gangs, but warns that the phenomenon of child trafficking “has been exacerbated by the ongoing migration crisis”. Children are at high risk of being doubly victimised, it says, because they are treated as perpetrators of crimes if they are found by the authorities.

“Organised crime groups choose to traffic children as they are easy to recruit and quick to replace, they can also keep under their control child victims relatively cheaply and discreetly,” states an EU working document seen by the Guardian. Trafficked children aged between six months and 10 years are bought and sold for sums ranging from € 4,000 to € 8,000, although amounts of up to € 40,000 have been reported in some cases.

Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat MEP, urged governments to get to grips with the migration crisis. “When the land on Europe’s shores, when they are not properly looked after, they are absolutely ripe victims for the traffickers.”

Meanwhile, AP reported that teen refugees and migrants sell drugs from school backpacks and trade sex for cash or clothes in Rome. In the capital of Sweden, they steal food from supermarkets and sleep on the streets. From makeshift camps along the northern French coast, they try to hop at night on to the backs of moving trucks headed to Britain.

All across Europe, there is a growing shadow population of thousands of underage asylum-seekers who are living on their own, without families. They hide silently and in plain sight, rarely noticed in the crowd. Nobody even knows how many of them there are.

These unaccompanied minors are slipping through the seams of a European system strained to bursting, and they present one of the biggest challenges of the migrant crisis. The fact that accurate numbers are so hard to come by reflects the shortcomings of the bloc’s 28 member states in implementing laws and guidelines that are supposed to protect asylum seekers in general and unaccompanied minors in particular.

Like adult refugees and migrants, minors are flooding into Europe for both security and economic reasons.