• 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
Italy quake: homeless to leave tent camps next month
Some 2,700 people lost their homes in the quake. Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP

Those left homeless after Wednesday's devastating earthquake in central Italy will be moved out of their tent camps by the end of September.

Facebook CEO in Rome for chat with staff...and a jog
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in Rome on Monday for a Q&A with employees. Photo: Drew Angerer/AFP

The billionaire arrived in the Italian capital after spending a week in Lake Como, where he attended the wedding of Sofia and Daniel Ek, the CEO of Spotify.

Gene makes coffee-lovers full of beans: Italian study
How much coffee you drink could come down to your genetic make-up. Photo: McPig/Flickr

A groundbreaking study carried out in coffee-mad Italy has helped identify a gene scientists say could regulate our appetite for espressos and cappuccinos.

The incredible hero dogs of Italy’s earthquake
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

For 40 minutes before an earthquake struck central Italy in the early hours of last Wednesday, a pet dog, living with its family in Poggio Castellano, a hamlet near Amatrice, kept barking.

Drawing out children's trauma in quake-hit Italy
Following the quake, a play area for affected children has been set up in Amatrice. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Inside a shady tent in the middle of quake-hit Amatrice, a little girl hunches over a table drawing a picture of the soaring mountains overlooking this small Italian town.

Pope wants to visit quake-hit villages
’I hope to come and see you,’ the pope said. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto /AFP

Pope Francis said Sunday he wanted to visit some of the central Italian villages devastated in this week's earthquake, as survivors and rescue workers dug in for the long haul with winter approaching.

Why quake-hit Amatrice will never be the same again
Amatrice had been due to host its Amatriciana pasta festival this weekend. Photo: Angela Giuffrida

The Lazio town of Amatrice was the hardist-hit by Wednesday's devastating earthquake. The Local's Angela Giuffrida visited what is left of the town on Friday.

Italian flags at half mast for quake victims
More than 280 people were killed in the 6.2-magnitude earthquake that struck on August 24. Photo: Andreas Solaro /AFP

Flags flew at half mast across Italy on Saturday as the country observed a day of mourning for the victims of an earthquake that killed nearly 300 people.

Italy earthquake
Italy prepares to mourn earthquake dead
Collapsed buildings in Amatrice. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

No survivors have been found since Thursday.

Italy earthquake
Rescuers search for 15 still missing in Amatrice
A suitcase in the rubble of a collapsed home in Amatrice. Photo: Angela Giuffrida/The Local

A team of specialist rescue workers from Shanghai is searching for 15 people unaccounted for in Amatrice, the Lazio town torn apart by Wednesday's devastating earthquake.

Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
National
Why discontented Italians could derail their economy
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Keep passports safe: Typical pickpocket scams revealed
Culture
Why coffee in Italy is a culture you must taste to understand
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Society
The richest families in Florence in 1427 are still rich today
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Culture
So why do pasta-loving Italians live such long lives?
National
Italy's Renzi prepares for stormy autumn
Society
This 104-year-old just saw the sea for the first time
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
National
Should Rome give up on its 2024 Olympic dream?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Society
The Italian doctor giving hope to thousands of migrants
Culture
Ten 'Italian' dishes that don't actually exist in Italy
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Sport
Five Italian athletes going for gold at the Rio Olympics
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Travel
Trastevere: From a fiery past to Rome’s souvenir stand
Politics
Think Trump would be a disaster? Just ask the Italians
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
How Brexit has helped to expose Italy’s banking malaise
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Politics
After Brexit, keep a close eye on Italy's Five Star Movement
Lifestyle
12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Italy
National
Why Milan could be Europe's post-Brexit financial hub
Travel
Five crowd-free alternatives to Italy's tourist hotspots
National
Italian hotspots struggling with 'too many tourists'
Culture
Meet the Italian chef behind the world's best restaurant
2,495
jobs available