Missing Children Europe conference: Towards a coordinated strategic approach on missing unaccompanied migrant children

Towards a coordinated strategic approach on missing unaccompanied migrant children: A European conference on missing unaccompanied migrant children


“I couldn’t stay,
Not a day went by without nightmares,
It’s not easy to change from one day to the next,
Sometimes everything looks black,
That’s why I now want a fresh start.”

- Unaccompanied migrant boy (16) from Angola

Picture by Nathalie Hill Photography - texts translated from the rap song to be featured at the “Losing myself” art exhibition opening 3rd December at InBetween gallery, Brussels

> Background and aim of the event

The problem of missing unaccompanied migrant minors is a vast and complex challenge, which can only be addressed effectively through a coordinated strategic approach among member states, including the different stakeholders concerned.

The conference aims to tackle the problem from a European and cross border angle, involving law enforcement and migration authorities, child protection services, guardianship services, hotlines for missing children, reception centres and academia. The goal of the conference will be to discuss practical building blocks to effectively tackle this growing problem.

The conference will open with the launch of a unique art project, bringing the voices and stories of missing unaccompanied migrant minors in focus.

> The problem

Over recent years, the problems and challenges related to children migrating to Europe unaccompanied1 received increasing attention at the level of the EU as well as the Council of Europe and other international bodies, in response to growing trends. Efforts have included legislation and funding as well as a dedicated EU action plan addressing the need to prevent, protect & find durable solutions. Eurostat reported that for 2013, a total of 12.730 asylum applications were submitted by unaccompanied children in the EU. In the 5th Annual Report on Immigration and Asylum published by the EC in 2014, 13 Member States were furthermore able to provide details on numbers of recognised unaccompanied children not applying for asylum, accounting for a total of 12.465 children. The vast majority of these children are teenagers between 14-18 years old. Yet, 1.095 of the 12.730 asylum applications submitted by unaccompanied children in 2013, were submitted by applicants less than 14 years old. The total amount of children crossing the EU borders unaccompanied remains unknown, due to underreporting and incoherent data management as well as the nature of the issue.

A lot of challenges remain in developing effective and coordinated responses to the specific problem of disappearance of unaccompanied migrant children, in particular those who do not apply for asylum. Available data in the EC Study “Missing children in the European Union: Mapping, data collection and statistics” released in 2013 suggests that approximately 2% of all children reported missing are unaccompanied migrant children. This data correlates with data collected by Missing Children Europe on the caseload of hotlines for missing children, which reported 2% of their cases as concerning missing unaccompanied children. Research undertaken in other contexts however demonstrates that the reality of the problem is in effect much more important:

> Frontex reported that in 2010, 60% of the unaccompanied children accommodated in social care centres in the UK are estimated by the British Asylum Screening Unit to go missing and are not found again.

> Terre des Hommes reported in 2010 that up to half of unaccompanied migrant children vanish yearly from certain reception centres, many in the first 48 hours after being admitted in Belgium,
France, Spain and Switzerland.

> The CONNECT project funded by the European Commission in 2013 reported that 24% of registered unaccompanied migrant children went missing from reception centres in Italy, and that
many more go missing before registration.

Many of these children have lost their homes, are escaping violence, poverty or disaster. Often beginning their journeys with parents or siblings many children are in fact intentionally separated from family members and taken by child traffickers or smugglers. Other children leave their home on their own initiative, fleeing a situation of abuse or exploitation. Some go missing from the reception centres in which they have been placed, with a specific migration plan in mind, or run away with the fear of being sent back to the situation they tried to escape from. Others fall victim to kidnapping, trafficking, sexual exploitation and economic exploitation, including forced donation of organs, forced drug smuggling and begging.

Efforts have also increased regarding the prevention and protection of missing children in general, in particular since the reservation10 in 2007 of the 116 000 hotline number for missing children, currently operational in 27 EU Member States as well as in Serbia and Albania. These hotlines provide free legal, social, psychological and administrative support and coordinate appeal services for specific cases of missing children, complementing the investigative work of law enforcement authorities. Hotlines across the EU responded to 250.012 calls in 2013. Developments at EU level with regard to the broader problem of missing children have included legislation, sharing of best practices and funding. Missing unaccompanied migrant children are among the most difficult cases for hotlines in terms of identifying the whereabouts of the missing child.

The speakers confirmed to speak at the conference include:

  • Jean Lambert, Member of the European Parliament

  • Maud de Boer Buquicchio, President of Missing Children Europe and UN SR on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography

  • Lilja Gretarsdottir, Senior Advisor on Migration, Council of EuropeDr. Karen Shalev Greene, Director of the Centre for the Study of Missing Persons, Portsmouth University

  • Laura Corrado, Acting Head of Unit, Immigration and Integration Unit, European Commission, DG Home Affairs

  • Georgia Dimitropoulou, Seconded National Expert, Equality and Citizens Rights, Department European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

  • David Lowyck, Director Minor N Dako, reception centre

  • Heidi De Pauw, CEO of Child Focus, Foundation for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children

  • Zoi Sakelliadou, Policy Officer, EU Anti Trafficking Coordinator, European Commission, DG Home Affairs

  • Olivier Geissler, International Programmes, Social Service International/West Africa, Network for the Protection of Children: Support Procedure and West African Regional Standards for the Protection and Reintegration of Vulnerable Children

  • Thomas Dunning, Principal Social Worker, Separated Children Seeking Asylum,TUSLA Child and Family Agency

  • Rebecca O’Donnel, Founder, Child Circle

  • Veronica Yates, Director , Child Rights International Network (CRIN)

  • Joe Apps, Manager of UK Missing Persons Bureau, National Crime Agency

Download the conference programme here and the event's background note here.

Read the speaker biographies here: Speaker bios.pdf

Download the presentations and other material here.

View pictures from the conference here

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