Missing unaccompanied migrant children
In 2015, almost 90 000 asylum seekers in the European Union were unaccompanied children under 18, about nine times more than the amount of children arriving three years before. This number does not include unaccompanied children who did not apply for asylum, and inconsistent data management prevents us from knowing exactly how many children arrive in Europe.
About half of these children run away from asylum centres or shelters within two days of their arrival. Europol estimates that at least 10 000 children have gone missing from these shelters, but national reports suggest that figures could be much higher (see figures in blue box below). Sometimes these children leave because they get discouraged by the length of asylum processes or family reunification procedures, or for fear of being sent back home or to the country where they first arrived. Sometimes they feel compelled to leave because the conditions offered to them are inappropriate, and they hope for a happier and safer future somewhere else. In many cases they are also forced to leave because they are or have 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 unaccompanied migrant children made up only 2% of the caseload reported by 116 000 hotlines in 2015. According to the 2013 European Commission study Missing children in the European Union Mapping, Data Collection and Statistics, only a minority of countries report having legal or procedural regulations on missing migrant children. Some even have a fixed no-action period before any investigation into the disappearance is done or considered.