How many unaccompanied minors are there?

Since 2008, about 198,500 unaccompanied minors have entered Europe seeking asylum.

Why are these children travelling alone?

There are many different reasons. Some have been orphaned by war and conflict in their home countries, some have been orphaned during the journey to Europe, some have been separated from their families during the journey and some have been sent to Europe by their families. It can cost thousands of euros to have one person smuggled from the Middle East and Africa into Europe and many families will naturally want to prioritise the safety of their children, so will send them first.

Where are these children coming from?

The majority of unaccompanied minors come from Afghanistan, but some come from Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Kosovo, Albania and many more.

What are these children fleeing from?

They are fleeing war, conflict and poverty. By now we have a seen the harrowing footage of houses, schools and hospitals destroyed by war. We have seen images of children injured from conflict, and grieving over the loss of their families. We have seen the desperately sad image of the body of three year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach in Turkey. This children are fleeing a living nightmare.

Are these children economic migrants or refugees?

The simple answer is both. Some are fleeing extreme poverty, while others are fleeing the immediate threat of death from war and conflict. Whatever the reason they have arrived in Europe, they deserve guaranteed safety and protection. Nobody makes the dangerous and harrowing journey on a whim.

Are these children orphans?

Some are orphans, while others have become separated from their families along the journey.

Are these children being sent to Europe as an anchor for the rest of their family?

In some cases they may be. However the family reunification laws are complicated and it is most likely that the child being an anchor for further asylum seekers would be only a small proportion of the reason for coming to Europe. The major reason children are fleeing to Europe is for safety reasons.

What ages are these children?

Most of these children are teenagers, but some are as young as 6.

Why don’t these children apply for asylum in their countries of disembarkation?

These children have travelled to Europe in the hands of smugglers and may have been fed lies about the European authorities, in an effort to encourage them to continue travelling with (and paying) smugglers to get to their destination country. The smugglers discourage them from registering with any authorities.

The children also have fears that are founded in fact – for example they fear being held by authorities in detention centres for long periods of time, and they fear being deported to their countries of origin.

Besides the fact that the two main disembarkation countries – Italy and Greece – can not accommodate all the UASCs landing at their ports, many children have family in other northern European countries that they are trying to reach, so applying for asylum in Italy or Greece would make no sense for them.

There is a way children can apply for a transfer from the European country they’re currently in, to their European destination country of choice (where their family may be, for example). This is called a Dublin Transfer.

Why do many of these children not take the safe, legal route and apply for a Dublin Transfer to their country of choice, instead taking risks with traffickers?

The Dublin Transfer is a lengthy process, taking upwards of six months to be completed and the application will quite possibly be refused. During this time, the children are being held in less than ideal accommodation – detention centres, facilities that they have to share with adults who pose a potential risk to them, girls and boys who have been sexually abused or raped having to share accommodation with boys and men, etc.

They know that if they take the underground route, they will potentially reach their destination country and be reunited with family within days.

Unfortunately, many end up being trafficked before they reach their destination country.

This is why the focus of this campaign is to change European Policy with regard to children seeking asylum, so that European workers have the proper policy behind them to convince these children to take a safe and legal route that will protect them, and ensure that  they do not end up lost in the criminal underground world.

Do these children not understand the risks involved in travelling with smugglers?

Depending on their age, the children probably do have some understanding of the risks involved. However, the smugglers often speak the children’s native language (unlike the European authority workers they may have come in contact with), will claim to come from a neighbouring village, will tell them lies (and unfortunately, harsh truths) about European policy and procedures, and make them distrustful of the European authorities. They will offer to get them to their destination country in a fraction of the amount of time the official authorities can.

What countries are these children trying to reach?

The main destination countries are Germany, Sweden and (pre-Brexit) UK, but it largely depends on what country they have family or friends already living in.

How are these children going missing?

These children end up missing because of major gaps in European policy procedure, and the actions of smugglers and criminal gangs. Many children go missing before they can be registered.  The critical point of this crisis is the point of first contact between children and European workers upon disembarkation. It is vital that trained workers make contact with these children before the narrative of smugglers can be fed to them. These workers need to have a solid pan plan in place to ensure that they can convince the child that the legal and formal process of asylum seeking is the best option for them, will protect them from harm, and will ensure reunification with their families. As is the case now, in the majority of instances this does not or cannot happen, and smugglers end up being able to manipulate the child to go with them instead.  

Many more children will have been registered in one European country and may even have been assigned accommodation and a guardian, but go missing shortly after. In fact, on average, the child will go missing within 48 hours of being registered. This happens for many reasons; children may run away out of fear, they may try to find their own way to their country of destination as the legal route takes an undue amount of time, or they may fall prey to traffickers and are forced into sex slavery, child labour and other forms of exploitation.

Some children are not traceable because there is currently no EU-wide system to keep track of them as they cross borders. Some reach their destination countries and families safely. Many do not.

Currently, we have no way of knowing.