The Silent Crisis of Europe’s Missing Refugee Children.
The refugee crisis can be an overwhelming subject. With so many points of chaos, it’s hard to know where to focus aid efforts at times. But one Europol report that came out earlier this year has caught our attention. The EU's police intelligence unit estimates that around 10,000 unaccompanied children have gone missing in Europe over the past two years. Many of the missing kids are feared victims of human smuggling and sex trafficking.
With the large numbers of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors coming out of traumatic situations like the ongoing refugee crisis and war in Syria, the phenomenon of child trafficking has been exacerbated.
Why are children going missing? The reasons are varied. “Some of them have been sent by their parents hoping that their child would have a better chance at life, some of these children have been separated from their parents by smugglers as a way of controlling them, and some would have lost their parents in the chaos,” says Delphine Moralis, Secretary General of Missing Children Europe.
But slavery and trafficking is illegal in most of Europe - even if children are missing, how are those activities happening?
Thousands of refugee children are trapped in trafficking situations because there’s no one there to protect them. In many places, the laws against trafficking and slavery simply aren’t enforced by the police and courts, or the numbers of people coming into European countries are so great, children get missed in the process—so smugglers and slave owners know they can prey on the vulnerable without fear of any consequences at all.
The journey of a refugee children is riddled with vulnerabilities at every stage. Those fleeing conflict often walk for days, hide in the back of lorries, jump out of moving trains, spend weeks in prisons and detention centres, cram into boats big enough for 20 people that hold 120 - all for the journey to Europe. Ultimately, children arrive at their first country of asylum plagued by homelessness, isolation, and trauma.
Many struggle to secure food, shelter, and other basic needs. Missing identity documentation can stop the few human rights afforded to them as children without guardians. In most cases, the legal right to education is not guaranteed, forcing many children to look for other ways to survive - including ways to work under the table.
Often, children sit in refugee camps and centres for months on end as their paperwork stutters through the system. Some travel with their aunts and uncles, having lost their parents to bombings separated while traveling. But even if they travel with a grandfather or uncle, laws in many European states only allow children to be unified with their parents, not extended families. This disallows children from receiving benefits and means that children cannot be turned over to aunts and uncles, cousins or siblings, so they have no one to look after them.
Because of this children get desperate for someone to show them a way to their families. One in nine of these unaccompanied refugee children is unaccounted for or missing, with many officials fearing they have vanished into Europe, “fallen prey to criminal gangs” that propose hopeful situations to the lost ones.
Why isn’t anything being done to help the missing children?
Nearly 100,000 unaccompanied minors came to Europe last year. These huge numbers overwhelm the resources available for vulnerable children through the government and non-profit systems. Even those children who are registered and in the asylum system put a strain on local authorities and make it hard to care for them well.
Another aspect of this, however, is a lack of empathy and movement toward refugees. One year ago, many people welcomed refugees and vulnerable children into their homes, donated food and volunteered in camps en masse. However, sympathy for refugees and care for these vulnerable children has waned over 2016 as desperate kids have become a “normalized” part of Europe’s newsfeed.
As the body of Christ, we are called to continue to care for the long haul. Long enough to take the orphaned into families(Psalm 68:6), to care for the destitute (James 1:27), to change systems and move them toward the integrity of God’s Kingdom. Why would God hold the care of orphans and the vulnerable in such high regard? Why does He rank it among the highest expressions of our faith? Perhaps because caring for the marginalized, oppressed and orphaned is not only one of the clearest expressions of the heart of God but also one of the most tangible demonstrations of the Gospel. Since the Gospel is the story of those who were cut off and orphaned from God being adopted into His family by the work of Jesus, then our care for and adoption of vulnerable, neglected, abused, marginalized and orphaned children is a beautiful example and continuation of the redemption story of God and a vivid demonstration of the love of Jesus extended through us. Our care, prayer and advocacy for these lost ones must be rooted in God’s care of us through Jesus – it begins not with the orphan “out there” who needs a family but with the orphan in us that has been given one in Jesus.
What can we do?
Pray: for the lost to be found, for those already engaged in the work of caring for children and placing them in families, for government officials and those in positions of authority who can help the missing children.
Become aware of the issue and details of the ongoing needs
Advocate to European governments on behalf of the missing and vulnerable children.
For those in government and law: concentrate on increasing punitive damages and risks for perpetrators. As well as providing adequate resources to combat it - increased police forces, awareness and training of government officials and organizations fighting this particular crime.
 Missing Children Europe. (2016, January 30). Europol confirms the disappearance of 10,000 migrant children in Europe. Retrieved October 13, 2016, from http://missingchildreneurope.eu/news/Post/1023/Europol-confirms-the-disappearance-of-10-000-migrant-children-in-Europe
 Rankin, J. (2016, May 19). Human traffickers 'using migration crisis' to force more people into slavery. Retrieved October 13, 2016, from The Guardian website: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/19/human-traffickers-using-migration-crisis-to-force-more-people-into-slavery
 Merriman, H. (2016, October 12). Why are 10,000 migrant children missing in Europe? Retrieved October 13, 2016, from BBC News website: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37617234
 Buchan, R. (2016, August 16). The Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Greenhouse for Human Trafficking. Retrieved October 13, 2016, from Human Rights First website: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/syrian-refugee-crisis-greenhouse-human-trafficking
 UNICEF. (2016, June 15). Refugee and migrant crisis in Europe. Retrieved October 13, 2016, from http://www.unicef.org/appeals/refugee_migrant_europe.html
 Gale, S. L. (2016, May 3). Refugee Crisis: Nearly 90,000 unaccompanied minors sought asylum. Retrieved October 13, 2016, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/nearly-90000-unaccompanied-minors-sought-asylum-in-eu-in-2015-a7010976.html