Four years on from the most critical period of the migrant crisis in Europe, 3,192 under-18s are still missing in Germany, according to the most recent data from the Federal Criminal Police Office.
Since 2015, thousands of children and teenagers have reached German territory unaccompanied by their parents or guardians, but many of them are not in detention centres and the local authorities do not know their whereabouts or state of health.
Official records show that, at the present time, there are 884 missing under-14s and 2,308 children that are older than this, but younger than the established age to be considered adults.
Nevertheless, the same reports released by state bodies and non-governmental organisations warn about the possibility that the number of foreign children whose situation is a question mark could be much higher than what has been calculated up to now.
The complexity of the migrant phenomenon and failures in the detention system and processing of undocumented migrants, predominantly from African and Middle Eastern nations, prevents reports from being accurate and complete. Regrettably, this is not only the situation in Germany: countries like Spain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Belgium and Sweden have shown that they do not know where many of the youngsters have ended up, in whose hands they might be or, even, if they are still alive.
As if the dangers experienced during their journeys on flimsy vessels crossing the Mediterranean Sea were not enough, the children that manage to survive do not find security on the so-called Old Continent, and many of them fall under the control of criminal gangs.
According to reports from the International Organization for Migration, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), from 2014 to the end of 2017, around 1,800,000 undocumented people arrived on European territory, 433,000 of them children.
In 2018, 127,000 people managed to reach countries in this region, some 20% of them (25,400) being underage.
During these years, more than 17,000 illegal travellers died on the Mediterranean, among them more than 1,200 kids.
According to the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), more than 10,000 youngsters from the total number that entered the continent in the last five years were lost track of by the authorities; in the best-case scenario because they continued their journey whilst avoiding official controls, until they were reunited with their family members.
Unfortunately, this entity believes that many of them ended up becoming victims of human trafficking networks, exploited physically and mentally, subjected to sexual abuse or abandoned to their fate.
Europol estimates suggest that almost half of the children disappeared after entering Italy, a country considered to be one of the largest recipients of migrants in this five-year period.
This organisation has indicated that many of the minors escaped from detention centres, slipped through border controls or were not registered due to errors made by the authorities and have been left at the mercy of criminal groups scattered across Europe, which see the undocumented as an important source of income and cheap labour.
At the same time, it warned about the existence of a close association between people traffickers and organisations dedicated to sexual exploitation and slavery in its most diverse forms.
Despite repeated calls from humanitarian organisations, the European Union (EU) has not found an effective solution to the migrant crisis and countries like Hungary, Poland and Austria are refusing to participate in the mechanisms of equal distribution and proper care of asylum seekers.
Recently, UNICEF reiterated its concerns “for the extreme vulnerability faced by unaccompanied children and teenagers or those separated from their families” and advocated for respect for their rights and their protection.
On several occasions, the European Union has approved declarations of intentions and documents that define actions to guarantee the security of little ones; however, children continue to be the most vulnerable sector and, although the magnitude of the crisis has lessened, thousands of them are still in constant danger.
All this adds on to the psychological damage suffered during the dangerous journeys they made, and to the displays of xenophobia and discrimination, problems that affect all migrants, especially following the rise of extremist and right-wing movements. Although some of the young people leave their countries of origin alone, many lose their parents on the way, which heightens the trauma they experience.
Federica Toscano, from the non-governmental organisation Missing Children Europe, states that young people go missing for different reasons, among them, organised crime and failures of the care system, but they also run away from detention centres due to the poor conditions of the facilities, delays in processing their refugee status and through fear of being deported.
Meanwhile, Sara Collantes, from the Spanish Committee of UNICEF, explains that “the regional system for facing this situation has serious deficiencies and there are significant problems when registering undocumented people and coordinating their next steps”.
Furthermore, she advises that, even in some state centres, the children are not safe as they are victims of violence and prostitution while they wait for extremely long legal processes and family reunification.
On multiple occasions, UNICEF has asked the members of EU states to stop unfair detentions of migrant kids, to implement quicker and more effective alternatives to give them the necessary care, to give them legal status and to keep families together. Even so, there is no consensus. (PL)
(Translated by Donna Davison – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay