The phenomenon of unaccompanied migrant children going missing has increasingly been in the focus of public attention in the EU and the Member States. Several international organisations and European NGOs have raised concerns that the disappearance of unaccompanied minors is not always addressed in an effective manner. What policies and procedures are in place and how is data on missing children collected in EU Members States, Norway and the UK? The new Inform from the European Migration Network (EMN), in collaboration with international organisations, EU agencies and NGOs, offers a global picture of the phenomenon.
“Missing from the reception facility”, “their whereabouts is unknown”, “they are suddenly unreachable”, “the disappearance is out-of-character”. These are some of the questions used in the EU Member states to determine whether an unaccompanied migrant child has gone missing. There are several reasons why such children go missing: they may be discouraged by the length and complexity of asylum or family reunification procedures, may fear being sent home or back to the country from where they first arrived in the EU, or they may be forced or pushed to leave because they were victims or had become victims of trafficking. In some cases, unaccompanied migrant children go missing because they are continuing their journey to a chosen country, or have a network of family, friends and acquaintances, or an irregular work network, outside the centre.
Many Member States do not have reliable or complete data on missing unaccompanied minors, and the data that does exist is not comparable, therefore it is not possible to accurately quantify the scale of this phenomenon. However, the available data suggests that most of the missing unaccompanied children reported over the period 2017-2019 were over the age of 15, and the vast majority were boys. The three most frequently cited countries of nationality of missing unaccompanied children were Afghanistan, Morocco and Algeria.
The EMN Inform found that in almost all Member States there are elaborate procedures in place for dealing with unaccompanied minors going missing. The procedures are often identical or similar to the procedures for the national or European children who disappear, and they include rules on when the disappearance should be reported, on who is responsible for reporting and for assessing the urgency of the case, including whether there are ‘worrying’ circumstances for issuing alerts, and for following up on the disappearances. The policy in most Member States, taking into consideration that minors are a vulnerable group, is that a report is filed in less than 24 hours.
However, several NGOs note that there are discrepancies between existing frameworks in place and the practice, for example, in the extent to which missing migrant children are followed up by the police, and how formal systems for following up on missing person alerts in the Schengen Information System (SIS) are applied in practice when it comes to missing migrant children.