In Belgium, 427 refugee children have disappeared from the Fedasil reception centres without a trace, according to new figures from Missing Children Europe and Child Focus.
It is estimated that over 30,000 minors who arrived among the refugees who have arrived in Europe have gone missing, with authorities and police forces seemingly overwhelmed by the phenomenon.
The ‘Missing Children Europe’, the European Federation for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children, stated that the majority of missing children disappear just before or during their asylum procedure. They are not always cared for adequately, and the slow and complex procedures drive many children to disappear, reports RTBF.
Previously, it had often been assumed that minors, when they disappeared from the radar, had simply continued their journey or had tried to join their families in another country. However, the reality is often that these children become victims of exploitation, even in so-called ‘safe havens’ like Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden.
“There is no classification system for disappearances,” said Stephan Smets, the COO of Child Focus Belgium, which provided data for the statistics, reports RTBF. “The 427 migrating children we have no news of are being analysed with the same rigour as the hundreds of other cases of disappearance currently being processed,” he added.
“The problem with the disappearance cases of so-called ‘migrant children’ is that these files are difficult to stamp as they are spread over a long period of time,” said Smets. “They arrive in Europe, are registered, and then, one day, we are told that the support services have lost track of them,” he added.
As long as there is still a lack of organisation among the EU Member States, the collected data from different countries will not be comparable. In practice, this means that there is no official record of the exact number of missing refugee children, or what happens to them after they have disappeared.
Missing Children Europe stressed the importance of cross-border collaboration, and systematic and coordinated exchange of all data on missing children, to clarify procedures.