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23rd Feb 2019

Over 1,800 migrant children have disappeared in Sweden

  • ”Roughly two school classes disappear every month. In what other situation would society accept that?” a Stockholm official said. (Photo: Neil Howard)

More than 1,800 non-accompanied migrant children have gone missing in Sweden, a recent report shows.

Fear and uncertainty regarding asylum claims are pointed to as reasons why children disappear.

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The 84-page report, unveiled on Thursday (17 November) by Stockholm's county council, said 1,829 children went missing after being assigned to a reception home.

That's 4 percent of the 45,651 unaccompanied children and young people who arrived and applied for asylum in Sweden from 2013 to May 2016.

”Roughly two school classes disappear every month. In what other situation would society accept that?” Amir Hashemi-Nik, national development manager at the Stockholm county council said.

The report suggests children abscond because their asylum claims have been rejected, or they fear that they might be rejected, and they don’t want to be deported.

They could also go missing because they were placed in a different part of Sweden to their friends and family, or because they didn't want to seek asylum in Sweden.

The situation is worsened by the fact that reception homes aren’t equipped to stop them running away. Only one in five have written procedures and even fewer train their staff to stop it.

Most of the children are Moroccan (26 percent), or Afghan (22 percent). Both of these groups have slim chances to be given asylum in Sweden.

Earlier this year, Sweden passed a law, aiming to reduce the number of asylum seekers in Sweden.

The new law replaced permanent residence permits with temporary ones, limiting right for family reunification for unaccompanied children and ended rights to assistance for those whose asylum claims were rejected.

The report notes the risk of children going missing increased after the tightening of the rules. It also notes, it’s ”in principle, impossible” for both these groups to go back to their countries.

Afghan children fear falling victim of violence. Some weren’t even born in Afghanistan.

Amir Hashemi-Nik says, ”the situation, with a growing group of hidden children and adolescents who aren’t allowed to stay, but cannot return to their home countries, risks becoming unsustainable. We get a parallel society with young people in a very vulnerable situation,”

”Regardless if they went missing on their own behest, there is a real risk that these children will suffer. By signing the UN convention on the rights of the child, Sweden committed itself to protecting all children on its soil, regardless of their legal status,” Stockholm county governor Chris Heisner said.

Earlier this year, the EU police agency Europol said at least 10,000 unaccompanied minors and children seeking international protection had disappeared in the EU.

This article was independently created by EUobserver's editorial staff and is part of a series about unaccompanied migrant children. Costs for producing this article was funded in part by the Destination Unknown initiative.

Report: EU failing migrant children

Just under 90,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the EU last year, up from around 13,000 in 2013. A UK report said many were treated with "suspicion and disbelief" by authorities.

Children's rights at risk in EU hotspots

Lack of lawyers and other staff has caused logjams on asylum claims, which particularly hurt children, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency told MEPs.

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