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10,000 missing children in Europe


'Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne' Takver, July 9th 2011. CC-BY-SA-2.0 Via Flickr
‘Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne’ Takver, July 9th 2011. CC-BY-SA-2.0 Via Flickr

The refugee crisis is actually worse than we hear, talk about and even imagine.  Almost half of the world’s displaced people are children. 

According to the EU’s criminal intelligence agency, refugee children are targets of criminals in the sex abuse and slavery. It is utterly disturbing that we can’t even say how many of these children have ended up being taken by these criminal gangs. One out of 10,000 is one too many, but I deeply fear that it is many, many more.

When I found out this information, I was dumb struck. Usually, I can put together a blog full of emotion, a fact piece, or a ‘here’s what we can do’ rant. But 10,000 missing children? I couldn’t get my head around it and have spent a lot of time sitting and thinking on it but I couldn’t figure what to write or what to say.

It felt like a blog was not enough. I felt angry but I wasn’t sure who at, I felt deeply saddened, and most frighteningly I felt powerless. I know that others in the sector, and in Ireland feel the same.

'Children's rights' Robert Schrader. January 25th 2013. BY-NC-ND- 2.0. Via Flickr
‘Children’s rights’ Robert Schrader. January 25th 2013. BY-NC-ND- 2.0. Via Flickr

With this in mind I contacted some friends who I knew were interested in showing solidarity with refugees heading to Europe and I told them about the scale of unaccompanied child refugees that have gone missing. We want to DO something about this, and we will. But we know that the first step is researching.

Below is a collection of what we have found out so far. It is our start point of unpacking this crisis within a crisis. It is my hope that by sharing this we can start a wider and real conversation about the most vulnerable in our society.


  1. Many refugee children who arrive in Europe are unaccompanied. This means that they are traveling without the care of an adult, making them highly vulnerable. In 2014, 23,160 unaccompanied children sought asylum in the EU.
  1. The problem of missing children isn’t just happening in a ‘far away’ land, where it might be considered ‘not our problem’.  5,000 children have disappeared in Italy. 1,000 children have gone missing in southern Sweden. At least 48 Vietnamese children have gone missing from authorities across England and Wales in the last nine month. This is OUR problem.
  1. This is an abuse of human rights. We have all heard of the universal declaration of human rights. In fact our current treatment of unaccompanied child asylum seekers breaks articles 2,3,4,5,7,9,13,14,22,25,26 and 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is twelve articles. Needless to say, all four of the themes of the UN convention on the rights of the child are not being realised for these missing children too.
  1. According to an email I received from an Irish MEP it is the ministers of Justice and heads of state nationally who are responsible for reacting to this issue. However, as the problem is pan European it is the joint responsibility of all to coordinate a joint response to the crisis.
  1. There is an umbrella organisation of NGOs in Europe called ‘missing children Europe’ which produced a report entitled SUMMIT report in Feb 2016 (best practices and key challenges on interagency cooperation to safeguard unaccompanied children from going missing) on this issue. The report finds that ‘reinforced efforts should be devoted to developing and delivering training programmes on the matter of the disappearance and protection of unaccompanied children to frontline workers.’ Agencies within European countries need to know who is responsible for protecting vulnerable refugee children.
  1. Ireland is one of four EU countries which reports to have legal or procedural regulations on missing migrant children. TUSLA (Ireland’s children and family agency) have a process in place especially for separated children seeking asylum.

So that’s the situation as I currently understand it. There’s a lot more to say on this topic, and there is a lot to do. For example, we need to find the missing 10,000, and we need to put procedures on the ground following policies that ensure that this never happens again.

This blog only intends to be a start point. The more we know, the better quality actions we can take, because this is a crime against humanity that we cannot allow to continue.