There is a growing number of unaccompanied migrant minors left to their own devices in Brussels, according to a report by four organisations working with refugees.
According to SOS Jeunes/Quartier Libre AMO, Médecins Sans Frontières, Médecins du monde and the citizen group Bxl Refugees, the systems put in place to accompany these minors are simply not sufficient.
In 2020, the government’s guardianship service estimated the number of unaccompanied minors at 600-700, including those living on the street as well as those in official centres run by asylum department Fedasil and the Red Cross.
However organisations working on the ground say the actual number is much greater, and many minors are being overlooked.
In the case of Médecins Sans Frontières, one in three of the housing requests they submitted in April concerned underage children – anyone under the age of 18 years.
SOS Jeunes said it had met 475 children during the first six months of 2021, which represents nearly 95% of those met over the whole of 2020. And between the months of May and June, the number tripled.
Needless to say, unaccompanied minors living on the marges of society without support are highly vulnerable and prey to exploitation including child prostitution, as well as the sale and use of drugs and alcohol.
According to aid organisations, the measures in place to respond to the needs of migrant minors are acutely insufficient. In addition, many minors simply do not make themselves known to the authorities in the first place and pass under the radar.
"It is abnormal for a humanitarian organisation to find itself obliged to deploy emergency accommodation solutions to overcome the structural shortcomings of a country, in particular when it comes to welcoming minors," said Mehdi Kassou, spokesperson for the citizen platform, referring to the 25 emergency accommodation places opened in June by three organizations.
"Almost 163 housing applications had to be refused to minors and they must therefore return to the streets or to squats with very young children for lack of suitable places."
The four associations highlighted that Belgium has signed the International Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that the best interests of the child are paramount and makes clear their right to be treated and their right to refuge, to be rescued and to have decent living conditions.