Tens of thousands of child refugees that left for Europe are missing

UNICEF has released two reports on the tragic situation of refugee children who are fleeing areas of conflict and poverty. Between January 1 and May 31 of this year, the International Organization of Migration and others counted 7567 children amongst the desperate refugees who crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Italy. Of them, startlingly, 92 per cent came without an adult.

The International Organization for Migration has estimated that 80 per cent of them are victims of trafficking. What data Italian social workers have been able to accumulate shows that both boys and girls have been sexually assaulted on their journey–some girls even arrive pregnant.

And asylum in Europe is elusive. Children sit in refugee centers or prisons for months on end as their paperwork stutters through the system. Laws in many European states only allow children to be unified with their parents, not their extended families. This means that children cannot be turned over to aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings.

UNICEF finds that 96,000 children cannot be accounted for in the system. The children have vanished into Europe, “some may have fallen prey to criminal gangs.”

On 27 May, UNICEF signed an agreement with the Italian government to monitor the reception of refugees–particularly unaccompanied minors–into Italy.

[Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College]

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