50,000 unaccompanied minors disappear from Europe’s asylum centres in 3 years, study shows

More than 50,000 unaccompanied minors disappeared from asylum centres in Europe between 2021 and 2023, according to a study by the Lost In Europe international journalists collective, which includes Belgian outlets Knack, VRT NWS and De Standaard. More than 2,000 of those disappearances were in Belgium.

These are vulnerable young people at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking and slavery, Lost In Europe says. The international group collected data from European countries showing that 51,433 disappearances were recorded in the past three years. In the previous period, 2018-2020, the figure was approximately 18,000.

The actual number is likely to be much higher, as only 13 of the 31 countries from which data was requested provided concrete figures. Most minors disappeared in Italy (22,899), followed by Austria (20,077), Belgium (2,241), Germany (2,005) and Switzerland (1,226). Data was not available from key countries including Greece and Poland.

"The migration system is broken and people are falling between the cracks"

Belgium’s federal asylum agency, Fedasil, registered 831 cases in 2021, 578 in 2022 and 832 in 2023. Most disappeared from temporary observation and orientation centres where young people are initially accommodated. Fedasil points out that the figures relate to reported disappearances, so one person can appear several times in the data.

The young people in question are mainly from Afghanistan, followed by Algeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Morocco. A Fedasil spokesperson told De Standaard that this is due to the relatively low rate of recognition of asylum claims of Afghan people in Belgium.

“Asylum seekers are registered in one member state, then abscond, or go to another member state with the help of smugglers. The migration system is broken and people are falling between the cracks,” Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner for Home Affairs told Lost in Europe. 

According to Johansson, 40,000 unaccompanied minors entered Europe last year and there is “a huge increase” in movements between member states. “With the new migration pact, we are going to fix the system,” she said. As part of the pact, unaccompanied minors will automatically enter the asylum procedure.



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