More than 18,000 unaccompanied minors have gone missing since arriving in Europe between 2018 and 2020, according to data collected by Lost in Europe in 30 countries.
At least 18,292 unaccompanied migrant minors, asylum seekers or refugees have disappeared from European reception centres between 2018 and 2020.
The numbers emerged from a pan-European data survey compiled by an international network of journalists, Lost in Europe, and published by Belgian news outlets Knack and De Standaard.
The report reveals how officials did not know where thousands of children had gone, after requesting the figures from 30 European countries, both EU and non-EU. The true number of missing unaccompanied minors is believed to be even higher due to some countries - like France and Romania - not keeping track of numbers.
Generally, not all European states record where the migrants come from. According to existing data, migrants have primarily come from Morocco, Algeria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Guinea.
The countries with the largest numbers of missing children were Italy (5,775), Belgium (2,642), and Greece (2,118).
In 2020 alone, the Belgian federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers, Fedasil, recorded 583 disappearances of unaccompanied minors. 987 vanished in 2018, while the number increased to 1,072 a year later.
The report attributed a sharp decline in the figures last year to the coronavirus pandemic, which affected all social and economic life in the continent as it did across the globe.
“Covid-19 has had a negative impact on the influx and registration of the target group and therefore also on the number of disappearances,” said Lies Gilis, spokesperson for Fedasil.
14 out of the 583 disappearances in Belgium were considered “concerning” by the federal police’s missing persons department as well as Child Focus, a charity for missing children.
Furthermore, 344 young migrants refused an assignment or did not come to the reception centre without any explanation. On the other hand, 225 minors arrived at first but then left of their own accord.
The Council of Europe saw the Lost in Europe report as vague and Kevin Hyland, a member of the council’s expert group, considers its estimates as conservative.
Over the last year, just ten out of 27 EU member states recorded the figures of migrants. There are no coherent data collecting methods among countries, which can create a contradiction among states’ records.
For example, in Belgium, the number of migrants who have gone missing are provided by Fedasil, the justice ministry, prosecutors, police department and Child Focus foundation. The United Kingdom records the data but it is not collected by a centralised agency, while Denmark considers itself a transit country through which minors continue their journey from or to Sweden or Norway.
Some minors had also been registered as adults, and passed through several countries and even disappeared more than once.
“Resources and expertise in child protection and exploitation remain limited across Europe. Right now, the right to compensation is regulated within the EU if your plane is delayed, but if you are an exploited child you may have to fight every battle on your own,” Hyland added.