Over 30.000 unaccompanied migrant minors were officially registered in the EU in 2017 alone, with many more migrating irregularly and therefore not appearing in the statistics. Of those, many will go missing, with 10.000 officially registered cases of missing unaccompanied migrant minors in the EU in 2017. Moreover, many missing incidents of unaccompanied migrant minors are not reported.
On top of this worryingly high rate of disappearances, different national strategies in handling these cases can confuse actors and delay the search. Some member states have a strategic delay in taking action based on the circumstances of the disappearance. Belgium, for example, has a 24 hour waiting period before reporting an unaccompanied migrant minor missing, unless the child is considered ‘particularly vulnerable’ (e.g. under 13 years old). In Germany, the reporting period may differ from shelter to shelter, but usually takes place at the end of the workday. These inter- and inner national variations in reporting the disappearance of unaccompanied migrant minors are especially harmful because these minors often cross borders, leading to an even greater search radius after the mandatory waiting period has passed. Due to the dependence on smugglers for irregular migration, unaccompanied migrant minors face a greater risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. Additionally, the different time frame in reporting missing unaccompanied migrant minors in comparison to other children puts this highly vulnerable group at a risk.
The reasons for the disappearances of unaccompanied migrant minors often remain unclear. It is assumed that the fear of being denied asylum and wanting to reunite with family members in different EU states are among the motivating factors. Yet, the data, such as official reports or academic research, is too sparse to allow any definite conclusions. The published numbers of solved disappearances of minors by the German Federal Police (BKA) showcase the issue with clearing these cases: while 98,25% of other missing children cases have been solved for the year 2019, only 81% of missing unaccompanied migrant minor cases have been cleared for the same period. This means that 427 disappearances of unaccompanied migrant minors could not be solved for this one year in Germany alone. The lack of knowledge points to a need for a better academic as well as practical understanding of the specific situation of unaccompanied migrant minors in the EU. For a more comprehensive insight into this issue, review the white paper on the topic that has also been compiled during the ChildRescue project.