The influx of migrants has been at the centre of political discussions for many months. Among the numerous victims forced to flee their country to seek refuge in Europe are a large number of children and young people. Children constitute up to 40% of people in refugee camps in Greece in 2016, more than 89,000 unaccompanied child migrants came to Europe in 2015 and at least 10,000 of these unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared.
To raise awareness about this problem together with the largest number of people possible and to urge politicians to take action, Missing Children Europe is launching "Mention the unmentioned". The campaign invites the public to take action themselves, using Facebook to ask ministers in charge to respect the rights of children in migration. The public will be made aware of how a simple notification can have a real impact on saving the lives of these children.
Left to their own devices, children missing in migration usually end up on the streets, experience homelessness, hunger and other risks that no child should ever experience. These and past experiences often have a negative impact on their mental and physical health. In some cases, they end up in the hands of traffickers or other criminal networks, and become victims of labour and sexual exploitation. In other cases, they rely on ruthless smugglers in an attempt to reach a place where they feel safe or to be closer to their family. They are forced to pay smugglers a lot of money only to be locked in the back of a lorry, or for a spot on a crumbling boat. Despite this reality, authorities in Europe have not taken the measures needed to guarantee the respect of the rights of these children and provide them much-needed protection. Migrant children are in fact worryingly neglected in European and national policies related to migration.
10,000 children have gone missing in Europe.
Following crises around the world, a large number of refugees and asylum seekers have been forced to leave their homes and come to Europe, including an increasing amount of children. In 2015, at least 89,000 unaccompanied children came to Europe. Fleeing their countries, as orphans or sent by their parents, many of them have no choice but to seek refuge in Europe, sometimes with a family member already living here.
Delphine Moralis, Secretary General of Missing Children Europe said, "The authorities in the receiving countries are put in charge of the child migrants that come to Europe, but these children often do not receive the protection they are entitled to by law: many live like prisoners, in atrocious conditions, become victims of violence, are not informed about their rights.
While they have the right to be reunited with their families, the procedures are extremely slow and complex. As a result, many children see no other option than to "disappear" and to continue their journey by themselves. It is at this moment that they are the easiest prey."
Human trafficking, drugs, labour and sexual exploitation
When children find themselves left to their own devices in countries that they know nothing about, where they feel unsafe and neglected, they become easy targets.
Human traffickers and other criminals are extremely adept at profiting from the vulnerability of these children. As a result, many of them end up as victims of labour and sexual exploitation, including forced prostitution and drug smuggling.
According to Europol, 10,000 unaccompanied children have already gone missing in Europe. Unfortunately, this figure is probably much higher in reality. Delphine Moralis adds: "These children go missing because we do not offer them a safe alternative. And once they go missing, they are very difficult to find. Administrative barriers make an already very complex problem more complex."
"Mention the unmentioned"
To expose this issue related to child migrants and to invite politicians to take measures to help them, Missing Children Europe is launching "Mention the unmentioned". This is a large-scale awareness-raising campaign directly targeting the ministers in charge of migration of all EU Member States. The principle is simple. Every individual, media organisation, association or business is invited to share an image on Facebook and to "mention" their minister in charge of asylum and migration. In the case of Cyprus, the competent minister is Ionas Nicolaou.
Delphine Moralis: "With this campaign, we want to draw the attention of the largest number of people possible to the plight of child migrants in Europe. We have chosen to use Facebook because it is a good way to reach out to the maximum number of people in the least amount of time and to allow everyone to directly petition their minister using their own page. The idea is that all Belgians can get involved. It is more than a petition, as mentioning the relevant minister will have a direct impact on his/her cabinet. He/She will not be able to ignore public pressure and will hopefully be compelled to work on recommendations by child rights organisations to improve European policy."
Justice and Home Affairs Council
On 26 and 27 January 2017, the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting will take place in Malta, with the attendance of the justice and home affairs Ministers across Europe. The Ministers will discuss reforms to European asylum and migration law. This is an ideal opportunity for Missing Children Europe to host the upcoming conference entitled "Lost in migration: working together to protect children from disappearance".
Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Malta and member of Missing Children Europe’s Patron Council, along with a good number of other associations concerned with this issue, will be present to propose joint recommendation to help child refugees. The campaign "Mention the Unmentioned", which has been launched ten days prior to the council meeting, aims to put pressure on the relevant politicians and provide leverage to find specific solutions with the authorities concerned.
Follow the Lost in Migration conference via www.lostinmigration.eu.