• Italy's news in English
 
app_header_v3
5,000 migrant kids vanished in Italy: but where are they?
Children disembark from a boat at the Brindisi harbor, southern Italy, in September 2014. Photo: DFF/AFP

5,000 migrant kids vanished in Italy: but where are they?

Angela Giuffrida · 1 Feb 2016, 15:29

Published: 01 Feb 2016 15:29 GMT+01:00

The figures, from Europol, the EU’s criminal intelligence agency, paint an increasingly distressing element of the ongoing refugee crisis, with fears that thousands of the missing youngsters could have succumbed to criminal organizations.

In an interview with The Observer, Brian Donald, the agency’s chief of staff, warned that “a sophisticated pan-European ‘criminal infrastructure’ was now targeting refugees”.

Although he said some of the missing children may have joined family members in parts of Europe, he admitted that the agency simply doesn’t know “where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with”.

But he did say Europol had received evidence that some child refugees who arrived alone in Europe had been sexually exploited.

Of the 10,000 to have vanished, 5,000 unaccompanied refugee children are said to have disappeared in Italy, while a further 1,000 slipped through the net in Sweden.

A spokesperson for Save the Children Italy said the figures are "extremely worrying" and point to a "severe gap in Europe’s child protection systems across the whole of the route".

“There are a lot of different reasons why refugee children in Europe are failing to be accounted for," the spokesperson said in a statement.

"Many have not been properly identified and registered, many abscond from the facility centres they are placed in, choosing instead to make the journey on their own. These children are at high risk of becoming victims of exploitation, trafficking and other forms of abuse."

Ferrucio Pastore, director of the International and European Forum for Migration Research in Turin, said that while the figures are worrying, he believes many of the children who have vanished in Italy chose to leave.

“Not many want to stay in Italy, so they try not to be identified,” he told The Local.

“Even if they are identified, they just leave. Many have survived such tough situations already, so despite their age they have the capacity to move on – their objective is to travel beyond Italy, maybe to find family or friends in other parts of Europe.”

His words echoed those of Virginia Giugno, the chief of staff at the town hall in the Sicilian port town of Pozzallo, a major landing point for refugees.

In an interview with The Local last summer, she said 2014 saw the highest number of unaccompanied children – around 1,000 – landing in the town, compared to just a handful in 2012.

Many of those had simply walked out of refugee centres.

“Some escaped before being systemized,” Giugno, who was appointed legal guardian for over 800 of the children, said at the time.

"Many arrived with a project to head on...to family and friends in northern Europe. Those who had been through this experience had clearly changed their outlook on life. They were brave, strong...yes, they cried for their parents, but with great dignity.”

Ranging in age from 12 to 16, they mostly came from Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Mali, Ghana and Ethiopia.

Read more: What happens to Italy’s missing migrant kids?

Story continues below…

But another worrying trend is the rise in the number of unaccompanied children, mostly boys, arriving from Albania, Pastore said.

"Over the last two years or so, the number coming from Albania has increased," he added.

“They come here for jobs, but unfortunately some fall into sex work or are exploited doing manual labour on the black market.” 

Save the Children Italy called on EU states to work together to improve child protection systems for vulnerable children travelling on their own, including ensuring front-line countries have the adequate capacity and expertise to properly identify, register and support unaccompanied refugee children.

"It also involves ensuring effective procedures are in place to facilitate best interest assessments for children and family reunification to other European States," the charity said.

“Ultimately, unless Europe is willing to provide safe and legal passage to refugees, it will fail in its responsibility to protect these vulnerable children and their families.”

For more news from Italy, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Angela Giuffrida (angela.giuffrida@thelocal.com)

Today's headlines
Forty children drown as shipwrecks claim up to 700
A migrant boat capsizing last week. Photo: Courtesy of Marina Militare

A week of shipwrecks and death in the Mediterranean culminated Sunday with harrowing testimony from migrant survivors who said another 500 people including 40 children had drowned, bringing the number of feared dead to 700.

Dozens missing in fresh migrant shipwreck: rescuers
Dozens more migrants are reported missing after a fishing boat sank on Friday. Photo: AFP

The Italian coastguard is searching for survivors after an overloaded fishing boat sank off the coast of Libya.

'Racist' Chinese ad causes outrage...but Italy did it first
Screengrab: Qiaobi/YouTube

A TV advert for a Chinese laundry detergent has been widely condemned, with commentators saying it’s the most racist ad to ever be screened. But hang on, a similar one was made in Italy...

Alicia Keys to sing live at Milan Champions League final
Alicia Keys will become the first person to sing live at a Champions League final. Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images/AFP

The final will be held at Milan's San Siro stadium on Saturday.

Crew who sunk with WWII sub 'wanted to be found': relative
The wreck of the P311. Photo: Massimo Domenico Bondone

People were stunned by the discovery of a body-filled, Second World War-era submarine off the coast of Sardinia earlier this week, not least Paul Denison, who told The Local his great-uncle was among the 71 who perished on board.

Man can pay ex-wife's alimony with pizza, Italian court rules
A court in Padua has ruled in favour of a divorced father who pays alimony to his ex-wife in the form of pizza. Photo: Erich Ferdinand/Flickr

Every family's needs are different...

Iconic photos of Hiroshima horror go on show in Rome
Ken Domon at work. Photo: Wikimedia commons

It is the first time the works have gone on display outside Japan.

Why the average ancient Roman worker was dead by 30
The research paints a grim picture of the dangers faced by ancient Roman workers . Photo: Carla Caladarini

The average Roman worker suffered several broken bones, had arthritis at 20 and was dead by 30.

Video
Over 100 feared dead in new migrant boat tragedies in Med
An image taken of Wednesday's migrant shipwreck. Photo: Marina Miltare

Over 100 migrants were feared dead on Thursday after two crowded boats capsized off Libya in separate incidents, with one of the tragedies captured on video that shows dramatic rescues and desperate final moments.

Italian man lay dead in flat for 5 years before anyone noticed
The man's body was found at his home in Cagliari, Sardinia. Photo: Simon Frost

"Nobody questioned his disappearance, nobody went looking for him."

Did a Nazi official save Ponte Vecchio from destruction?
National
How the brutal murder of an anti-mafia hero altered Sicily
Travel
These are the best beaches within easy reach of Rome
National
Why Italians are falling out of love with the EU
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Business & Money
Foreign, female and a self-made success in arduous Italy
National
How Italy's richest region is feeling the migrant strain
Culture
Rome mulls 'metro museum' after new line unearths ruin
National
Why Italy's facing a birth rate apocalypse
National
Why talk of barriers is opening up old wounds in South Tyrol
Culture
Huge Roman villa found under Amalfi church set to open
Travel
Two men kicked off plane in what captain calls 'racist act'
Meet the expats making a career out of Italian food
Society
'Staying single is why I'm the world's oldest person'
Travel
Where can you find the best beaches in Italy?
The ultimate guide to the insanity of driving in Italy
Travel
Eight of Rome's most tantalizing foreign food gems
Migrant arrivals in Italy top 30,000 for 2016: navy
Italy’s deadliest earthquakes over the last 100 years
Travel
US passports now need six months validity for Italy
Travel
Six incredible ways Italy profoundly changed my life
Society
Cheese, wine and family: the Italian way to live beyond 100
2,520
jobs available