Missing children in migration

Recent data from the European Migration Network shows that more than 30 000 young newcomers went missing in Europe between 2014-2017. Experts believe the real number to be much higher, but a more realistic figure is difficult to obtain due to lack of reporting, no consistency between Member States and professionals on the meaning given to ‘missing children’ and data not collected in a systematic and comparable way. 

Children in migration who are outside the national child protection are at risk of starvation, homelessness and being forced into criminal networks. With limited safe and legal ways to move across countries, towards and within Europe, unaccompanied children are vulnerable to going missing and exploitation. Europol raises concerns over the risk of trafficking and exploitation for children in migration and says traffickers will likely target them increasingly in the future. 

The reasons why young new comers are missing are multiple. Sometimes children leave centres because they become discouraged by the length and complexity of asylum or family reunification procedures, or fear being sent home or to the country where they first arrived. Sometimes they feel compelled to leave because the conditions offered are inappropriate, and they hope to find a happier and safer housing elsewhere. In many case they are forced to leave because they are victims or become victims of trafficking, including labour and sexual exploitation, forced begging and drug smuggling.

Despite the enormous risks to which unaccompanied migrant children are exposed, their disappearance is usually underreported. Missing children in migration made up only 5% of the caseload reported by 116 000 hotlines in 2017 because the majority of children are not reported as missing. According to the 2013 European Commission study Missing children in the European Union Mapping, Data Collection and Statistics, only a minority of countries report to have legal or procedural regulations on investigations into the disappearances of migrant children, or they have a fixed no-action period before any activity on the case is considered.


The INTERACT project was launched in 2018 within the framework of Missing Children Europe’s AMINA programme on the protection of children in migration.

Its main purpose is to close the protection gaps that lead to disappearance and exploitation of children in migration and contribute to creating an environment in which primary consideration is given to the best interest of the child.

INTERACT’s innovative methodology used simulations of cases of missing children in migration in need of protection to test practices and procedures for multi-agency collaboration at national and cross-border level. Ninety professionals from six countries (Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Sweden and UK) worked together to find Abena and Qiro and made real time judgement calls on how to cooperate with partners within and outside of the country.

Lost in Migration Conference

Missing Children Europe held the second edition of the Lost in Migration conference: 'From European priorities to local realities' in Brussels on 11 & 12 April 2018. The recommendations, as a result of the conference, will be published shortly. 

Based on the existing gaps in the protection of migrant children identified at the first edition of Lost in Migration in 2017, Missing Children Europe held its second edition of the conference in April 2018 together with the Maltese President’s Foundation for the Well-Being of Society, the Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament (ALDE), the Intergroup on the Rights of the Child, the EPIM foundation and the Partnership on the Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees of the Urban Agenda for the EU
Working together to protect children escaping war, poverty and violence from disappearance, the conference took stock of the progress achieved since the adoption of the European Commission Communication on the protection of children in migration, identified good practices in the implementation of the commitments at local level and outlined recommendations on the way forward. The result of these recommendations will be published in a booklet shortly. 

Plans for a third edition of Lost in Migration are underway for 2019. 

Amina Means Safe

Amina translate to safe one in Arabic. We want to make sure every child coming to Europe reaches safety and is treated with love, respect and dignity.

Since May 2017, Missing Children Europe has been working on a project aiming named AMINA to close the protection gaps that lead to the disappearance and exploitation of children in migration in Europe. AMINA will contribute to an environment where policy and legislative processes take the best interest of children as their primary consideration.

We want children to have access to child friendly, up to date and accessible information on their rights, procedures and the support available wherever they are, so they are empowered to take the right decisions, rather than forced to trust those profiting from their vulnerability, and therefore are better protected while on the move in Europe. We want actors working with children to be better trained in responding to protection needs of children in migration and we want them to work together better across national borders on the basis of trialled and tested procedures. We want the general public to feel a sense of responsibility and empathy towards the needs of children in migration, and we want to change the narrative regarding children in migration to a more positive discourse to avoid alienation of children and to help children to integrate into their new society. We want policy makers at the national and EU level to prioritise children in migration policies so all decisions regarding children are based on their best interest, including those related to law making and public funding.


SUMMIT Project

Safeguarding Unaccompanied Migrant Minors from going Missing by Identifying Best Practices and Training Actors on Interagency Cooperation

The project Safeguarding Unaccompanied Migrant Minors from going Missing by Identifying Best Practices and Training Actors on Interagency Cooperation (SUMMIT), launched in October 2014, is co-funded by the EU under the Pilot Project “Analysis of reception, protection and integration policies for unaccompanied minors in the EU”. 

SUMMIT addresses how the issue of the disappearance of an unaccompanied child is tackled in different Member States and promotes successful strategies and behaviours related to the prevention and response to these disappearances. The project specifically looked at combining the experience of both the actors which primarily deal with the care of unaccompanied children and those which focus on disappearances of children, including law enforcement and hotlines for missing children, and from that combination examine how to cooperate better and on what issues.

Find the research, toolkits and best practice videos produced as a culmination of the project here.


  • During February 2016, in Hungary children disappeared at an estimated rate of 90-95%, after spending one to three days in reception institutions. In Slovenia, about 80% of children went missing. In Sweden, about 7-10 children are reported missing each week. In Austria, 100 children went missing from one reception centre.
  • On January 1 2016, the German Federal Criminal Police (BKA) said that 4749 unaccompanied children are considered to be missing in Germany. 431 among them are younger than 13-years-old, 4,287 between 14 and 17-years-old and 31 aged 18. In May 2016, the total number raised to about 9,000. On July 1, 2015 the number of missing unaccompanied refugees was 1,637[1].
  • In Italy, the CONNECT project reported that, in 2013, 24% of registered unaccompanied children went missing from reception centres and that many more go missing before registration. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that in 2014, 3,707 unaccompanied children of the 14,243 who were registered after arriving via boat went missing from reception centres.[1] The Ministry of Welfare reported that in 2015, 62% of all unaccompanied children who had arrived between January and May went missing.[1]
  • In Sweden, more than 800 children have disappeared in the last five years. In 2014, Sweridge Radio reported 374 unaccompanied children went missing and only 59 have been tracked down.[1] The situation seems even more worrying in 2015 when the coastal town of Trelleborg reported that 1,000 children from the 1,900 unaccompanied children who arrived in September had disappeared.[1]