I am proposing for discussion the missing refugee children situation in the European Union.

The idea about this post came to me in the past few days, as I have seen circulating in the social media the story of a little boy, Omran Daqneesh, after his house was struck by bombing in the war-torn city of Aleppo. If you do not know what I am referring to and somehow missed this piece of news, I am attaching a link down below. And I would like to use this opportunity to spread awareness about other children, whose lives are in danger and we might not be very informed on the matter.

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Earlier this year, actually at the end of January, EUROPOL which is the equivalent of (European) FBI came forward with a speech to address a problem the European Union is dealing with and I still have the feeling this situation is not well acknowledged by many of us, yet alone understood. It deals with the disappearance of around 10,000 refugee children, after they made their way to Europe. The so-called “quiet crisis” of mysterious disappearances is baffling mostly because of the figures which are higher than we would naturally presume. There have been 25,000 unaccompanied refugee children registered to have entered into the EU space the previous year.

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According to  Europol, the same last year there have been up to 10,000 missing refugee children in Europe. Just to get an idea of how much 10,000 is, this is how it looks like:

15 times the pupils of an average school in Romania (Supposing the average class has 30 pupils enrolled)

1/5 of the National Arena Stadium

Approximately the entire city of Strehaia (Leo included)

Approximately the entire city of Topoloveni

ghh

The existing legal acquis on children rights and refugee & migrant procedures

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The European Union is trying to keep a record of how many people reach Europe through their provisory documents or registration they offer upon arrival to the refugees. This is all kind of set by the Dublin (III) Regulation and the EURODAC system (which is, for people unaware of it, the fingerprinting system the EU has introduced which enables authorities to collect the fingerprints of the people reaching their countries –for all people older than 14 years, to keep a track of their asylum application and make sure they do not try to apply in more than one country, the so-called asylum shopping procedure).

If we follow the reports which were published by the European Commission May 2016 on the implementation of the Dublin Regulations, we find part of the reason why there is such a difficulty in implementing the European policies in the first place. There have been states of the EU which have decided to organize specialized units to deal with the procedures under the Dublin Regulations, most of them, and states which did not create such special units, such as Hungary, Poland, two of the Baltic States (Lithuania and Latvia).

While it makes sense somehow that the national authorities would like to cut the expenses for such a task in states which have not been a safe haven for the refugees, it looks as if even in some of the countries where there are these existing special units to deal with the protocols, the entire procedure and regulation is yet unclear and blurred. For instance, Romania has not provided training on the experts who are working with the Dublin Regulations. “France, Portugal and Romania have not provided any specific training on Dublin to date. France noted that it has proven too costly to have employees participate in EASO training which is run in Malta.”

Now, going back to the children rights, just to brief us all in on some of the cornerstone provisions on children’s rights, we shall enumerate:

-the United Nations Human Rights Convention on the Rights of the Child –active since 1990- this is the Bible/Qur’an/Torah/Tipitaka/*insert name of important religious book here* of children rights (which is basically improving and continuing what the League of Nation’s Geneva Protocol of the Rights of the Child -1924 has iterated);

 –the European Convention on Human Rights (adopted by the Council of Europe for people who are unfamiliar with these laws);

-there are also quite some provisions adopted by the European Union, such as Directive 2011/93/EU of December 2011 on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, Council Recommendation 98/560/EC of September 1998 on the protection of minors and human dignity in audio-visual and information services, basically a bouquet of rules regulating what is and what is not ok to happen to children –regardless of their statute- in between the borders of the European Union;

And because the EU officials know nobody got time fo’ checking all these provisions in their archives, they did it for us, and compiled every single provision in a booklet which can be downloaded or read on the European Commission’s webpage. (I attached the link down below as well)

 But basically, the most important one is the one adopted by the UN in 1989, enforced in 1990 and the reason is super simple to understand –because this convention was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations which is like the most populous gathering of people from countries around the world voting for things (or phrasing it nicely, adopting resolutions upon voting for issues which have been  tackled after being registered for discussion on the agenda), which means the implementation of it is more or less worldwide, or should be.

(Just a bonus for those of you who might be wondering, what is the second biggest assembly of people in the world that is the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which was initiated by Indonesia- the biggest Muslim country in the world)

So how do the authorities realize that these children went missing?

Literally, because they disappear from the camps. Currently, there is no way to impose a strict curfew for unattended minors without infringing upon fundamental human rights, nor some clear procedure of a legal guardian or a tutor, even though as stipulated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, “States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parents’ or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.” (Article 2)

So the overlapping complicated bureaucracy of who takes care of whom and who is in charge and the entire procedure is yet unclear and as a result, 10,000 children have been reported missing in 2015. Social workers are reporting to UNHCR and to the state agencies that the children whom they were providing social counselling to have just vanished from the camps. Or they just decide to go out one day and never come back. They cannot be restricted to a closed detention centre because that would deprive them of the basic rights they are entitled to.

And what exactly happens to these children?

According to international NGOs, the UNHCR, UNICEF and the media, there are several possible situations:

Case Scenario A: 

They decide to go “underground” as it is the case for instance with Sweden –where the “open door” policy for migrants has been replaced by a more strict regulation of who gets in and who gets to benefit from the Swedish social system. So basically, the children who decide to go underground in Sweden are the one whose asylum applications were rejected and therefore the Swedish state will not provide for them.

They manage to get around because they are being helped by the migration centre which provides them with clothing and food supplies with a level of confidentiality and thus they can get around and in the same time, they leave the legal housing which they previously had in order for the law ensuring forces not to find them and push them back outside the border. And I would venture enough to presume this is not only the case in Sweden, but also elsewhere where these children are being refused the asylum permit.

Case Scenario B:

They get into contact –willingly – with the international smugglers who –depending on the situation- relocate them to different addresses. It is roughly estimated nowadays that 90% of the total movement of the refugees across countries is made possible through the smuggler gangs. for instance, a child who would want to reach Austria from Greece to reunite with his brothers/sisters or parents (which is legally rightful to ask for) would have to wait until his application is being processed by the Greek authorities –which can take up to several months- meanwhile, with the international smugglers, they can get form Greece to Austria in just couple days, without waiting for the legal reply from the Greek authorities.

And it is quite well known at the moment that most of the people whom had arrived in Europe aim at seeking asylum in countries where they would be better-off as compared to countries with a lower GDP per capita, such as Romania –where there was a case reported in the media, which can stand correct or might have been exaggerated by the eye-catching bomb style kind of news- of two refugees who have accidentally ended up in Romania instead of Hungary and have begged the Romanian border patrol to take them back to the Serbian border.

Case Scenario C:

They get into contact –unwillingly– with  international crime networks. This is the worst case scenario and darkest possible thing which could ever happen to a child. Because once the criminal network has reached an unaccompanied minor, his physical and mental conditions will be severely hampered; they would try to make use of him in various ways, from selling the minor on the black market to well-off families, forced labor, beggary, and prostitution to straightforward infanticide by harvesting organs. And we have to understand and accept the fact that currently the European Union is facing a very serious problem with the missing children and what is worse is that as Europol estimated, 10,000 is just a conservative figure.

We find in charge people softening the situation by pinpointing the children –often saying they have willingly left the camps and the reason they are still missing even though they have already registered for asylum elsewhere is the lag in the bureaucratic system and the European international institutional communication. One thing is for certain –for those 10,000 children who have left their home countries to escape conflict, perhaps the war zone and have fallen onto the hands of the smugglers and criminals, the in force laws and regulations stipulating the rights of the child have completely failed them and let them down.

Is something being done about the entire situation?

Yes, there are currently efforts from behalf of the European Union authorities to improve the way they are dealing with some aspects of the refugee situation and to enhance international cooperation. Unfortunately, according to the European Commission, there are 250,000 children declared missing every year in between the borders of the EU, either we are speaking about runaways or abductions. There are important measures being taken to further strengthen the control of the EU borders and also running a database check of all lost documents of EU citizens (I’m not a detective but I guess they are looking into stolen identities cases or such). More information on the topic can be found at EU news press or various institutions’ official websites.

For more information on the topic, you can check the website of the organization Missing Children  Europe: http://missingchildreneurope.eu/

Short disclaimer for the article: First, i would like to thank the Political Science Club for giving me the opportunity to voice my ideas. Secondly, I would like to be noted that this article is an expression of my personal opinion and should not be associated with the opinions of the Political Science Club. Also, I would like to apologize in advance for the clumsy writing style, as this is my first article and I welcome critics and suggestions 🙂

Sources:

Convention on the Rights of the Child, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx

European Convention on Human Rights, available at: http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf

Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast) available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2013:180:0031:0059:EN:PDF

EU acquis and policy documents on the rights of the child, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/fundamental-rights/files/acquis_rights_of_child.pdf

Evaluation and implementation of the Dublin III Regulation, DG Migration and International Affairs, Final report, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/asylum/examination-of-applicants/docs/evaluation_of_the_implementation_of_the_dublin_iii_regulation_en.pdf

Migrant Smuggling Networks, Joint Europol-INTERPOL Report, Executive Summary, May 2016, available at: https://www.europol.europa.eu/content/EMSC_launch

Situation Report: Trafficking in human beings in the EU, Europol Public Information, February 2016, available at: https://www.europol.europa.eu/content/trafficking-human-beings-eu

Battle of Aleppo: Photo of shocked and bloodied Syrian five year-old sparks outrage, available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37116349

Europe’s quiet crisis: ‘missing’ migrant children, available at: http://www.politico.eu/article/going-underground-europes-lost-migrant-children/

We cannot look the other way as child refugees go missing, available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/the-11-year-old-refugee-i-met-in-calais-has-gone-missing-a6966506.html

Sweden slams shut its open-door policy towards refugees, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/24/sweden-asylum-seekers-refugees-policy-reversal

10,000 refugee children are missing, says Europol, available at: http://www.euronews.com/2016/01/31/10000-refugee-children-are-missing-says-europol

Refugees, just like Romanians, don’t like to be in Romania, available at: http://www.vice.com/read/afghan-refugees-in-romania-crying-not-hungary-876  (Yes, I realize I am quoting VICE as a ‘reliable’ source of information, I remember I saw this on TV back then, but I did not find it for some reason  on any other website)

Statistics:

UNHCR: http://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html

Photos:

Magnus Wennman’s project “Where the children sleep”, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2016/6/5702c1594/where-the-children-sleep.html

The European Union Flag is taken from almighty Wikipedia

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