Unaccompanied Refugee Minors in the European Migrant Crisis

Unaccompanied Refugee Minors in the European Migrant Crisis have been the principal victims not only of abuse back in their countries and during their dangerous displacements but also, and sadly, of neglect and violence in Europe by our bureaucratic systems and law enforcers, as well as common citizens.

WYA Europe interns had the opportunity to attend a conference organized by MEP Arne Gericke at the European Parliament on the interesting topic “Missing Children”. The conference brought different NGO leaders and EU Agency officers together to discuss the scary and sketchy reality of these poor children arriving to European soil and not finding the most deserved hospitality and comfort. Terrible stories about children trafficked, raped, abused and exploited were just the tip of the iceberg, and a whole unknown phenomenon started to be worryingly revealed. What was most disturbing was the fact that no official reports nor investigations actually existed, because agencies and institutions within Europe have not made it a priority and even ignored it.

But no statistics doesn’t mean we don’t have any facts, and Europol was able to estimate thanks to NGOs’ cooperation that around 10,000 children had been gone missing between 2014-2016. Kidnapping, smuggling, and even kids escaping refugee centers, camps, and detention centers due to inhumane conditions have led to engrossing these estimations. And the worst part about it all? No one is doing anything, and some NGOs can only warn about the situation and claim for measures.

Among the problems that the speakers mentioned regarding European policies and national implementation we can find some systemic protection fails that are not being solved, despite them being going on for almost 5 years now. As Delphine Moralis, secretary general of Missing Children Europe, stressed, “there are 4 preventable gaps in the system: poor children reception procedures, a huge lack of information (not only for children but also for their families), absence or insufficiency of training of professionals, and last but not least, a lack of coordination between national and cross border efforts and procedures”. These all lead to miscommunication, no reporting when children arrive which definitely makes it easier for them to be lost or, worse than that, unknown; wrongful caring or guardianship of these kids who are in need of emotional as well as financial support, a lack of investigation from police teams when a child disappears, and the discouragement for all these children to find a stable and safe future within Europe.

It is already known and it has been denounced that many of these children spend time in detention and are treated as criminals, abused by policemen and repelled with violence when arriving at the borders. Moreover, the lack of translated information into their mother tongues prevents them from seeking help within the established system and make them even more vulnerable to nets of human trafficking and mafias. As Torsten Gumbrecht, representative of an association in charge of these children in Germany, stated, “many of these young boys and girls end up caught in prostitution and drug markets, and some of them even die in the process”. But how is investigation and reporting going to happen if there is no previous identification of these children? In the European bureaucratic eyes, they do not even exist.

In light of these heartbreaking circumstances some solutions and practical tools were suggested and proposed in order to improve the system of reception and protection. Maria Vilapino, an expert on asylum procedures for children in the European Asylum Support Office, showed the progress and work that has been made by their agency through different publications of guides and instructions regarding procedures. Among others, they have edited different information adapted and translated to give to these children so that they know what to expect from the system. Still, they have to face the suspicions not only of the kids but also European citizens seen past failures. Mistrust clearly affects its success.

To conclude, and although all speakers remarked the fact that we are just not talking about people but specifically children, and therefore should bear that in mind when considering urgent solutions and analysis, a lack of integral understanding of the human dignity of these kids is alarming, even among those who are trying to help. No word regarding the essentials was mentioned and conditions and situations overshadowed the inherent dignity of these little human beings that are suffering and in need of help. Solidarity was another missed concept, despite the repeated use of nowadays’ fashionable principle of cooperation. WYA Europe believes that unless solidarity and human dignity enter the discussion and are truthfully embodied in future solutions regarding these children’s needs, no progress will be made, and these kids that are under our responsibility will be doomed to disappear hopelessly.

Written by Núria Marzo i Vila, a WYA Europe intern.