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    Disappearances of unaccompanied minors on the rise in Belgium

    © Belga
    © Belga

    The Guardianship Service of the Federal Office of Justice registered almost 700 disappearances of unaccompanied minors in Belgium in 2018, according to a new study.

    Migrants under 18 that arrive in Belgium without their parents end up in a reception centre. In most cases, they do not want to stay, but want to continue their journey to the United Kingdom and apply for asylum there, which is why they try to stay under the radar in Belgium.

    In 2018, the Guardianship Service of the Federal Office of Justice lost track of 697 minors, according to numbers from the European investigation ‘Lost in Europe’, according to a report by Knack magazine.

    All disappearances must be reported to the police, but that does not always happen, according to Knack’s investigation, usually due to inter-department miscommunications. Cooperation must be improved, according to Heide De Pauw of Child Focus.

    “It is very important that when someone is confronted with the disappearance of an unaccompanied minor, they report to the police. All departments involved, prosecutor, police, Immigration Office, Guardianship Service, have to work together and exchange information to lead to the solution of the disappearance,” said De Pauw to Knack.

    In four out of five cases, the disappearing minors are boys, according to Child Focus. Most of them originally came from Afghanistan (33%), Morocco (13%), Eritrea (6%) and Syria (5%). In total, the disappeared minors have 34 different nationalities.

    In 2017, a special Taskforce for Disappearances was established in Belgium, after the disappearance of the 9-year-old Brahim Bakali. He was brought to the Immigration Office in Brussels to register so that care could be sought for him, but he disappeared during the lunch break. What is remarkable is that no one from the office reported the disappearance.

    However, the established taskforce was unable to determine a common protocol to improve the cooperation and flow of information between relevant departments, mainly because the Justice cabinet and the Asylum and Migration cabinet could not agree, according to Knack.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times