The large number of unaccompanied minors arriving in Europe can be explained by Afghan families sending their children hoping they will get refugee status easier, and then seek reunification with the rest of the family, according to a new report by the EU asylum office.
In 2015, a total of 95,985 unaccompanied minors applied for international protection in the EU+ (EU member states plus Norway and Switzerland). This is almost four times the number of unaccompanied minors registered the previous year, and this is also 7% of all asylum applications lodged in 2015.
The figures are mentioned in a 141-page report, released on 8 July by the EU asylum office, EASO.
Graphs clearly show that the vast majority of the unaccompanied minors are from Afghanistan. Out of almost 200,000, asylum applications from nationals of Afghanistan, one-quarter were unaccompanied minors.
Some countries like Sweden recorded a particularly large influx (28,205 an increase of 400%. Finland received 2,340 unaccompanied children, an increase of 1,200% compared with the previous year.
More than 90% of the minors travelling without a parent or guardian were boys and more than half of them were between 16 and 17 years old.
euractiv.com asked EASO officials to explain the explosion of the number of unaccompanied youngsters, where were their parents, and whether some of them run the risk to fall prey to mafia gangs dealing with prostitution, organ harvesting and other crimes.
Barbara Celis of EASO said that in 2015, 5,500 unaccompanied children withdrew their asylum applications, which in her words could be an indicator for trafficking of children. A withdrawal of application means that the person has changed plans and no longer seeks asylum, therefore the contact between him and the authorities is usually lost. But a withdrawal of asylum application could also be the sign that the asylum seeker sought to move to another destination country.
Jadwiga Maczynska of EASO said that children applied for asylum usually through a legal guardian, a person whose job is to look for the best interests of the child.
Ward Lutin of EASO said the number of unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan was “huge”.
“There is some social research showing that in Afghanistan, this is seen as a grouping mechanism. Families send out their children, strategically, hoping that they will manage to get a status in Europe, and then use them as anchor children and be reunited with them”, he said.
Lutin explained that according to research Afghan youth saw it as “something heroic” to be able to get a status in one of the most popular destination countries, such as Germany and Sweden.
He added that another reason was of course that the situation in Afghanistan was dismal, and as a result, there was huge pressure on Afghan boys to make the journey. It was considered as “shameful” not to succeed, he explained.