Frontex Releases Report on Unaccompanied Minors in European Migration
Warsaw, December 13 — Frontex has released the results of its first Tailored Risk Analysis into unaccompanied minors in European migration. The analysis, conducted in response to a request by the European Commission, was intended to identify the extent and nature of the phenomenon, the profile of groups most at risk, the 'pull' and 'push' factors involved and the Member States most concerned, as well as providing a medium-term forecast of trends and offering recommendations for action.
Unaccompanied Minors in the Migration Process identifies some key trends, profiles and modi operandi in this increasingly visible and sensitive group. Unaccompanied minors are usually not detected at the EU external border but discovered to be unaccompanied at their final destination, often when they apply for asylum. Unaccompanied minors represent a particularly vulnerable group that are open to sexual, economic or criminal exploitation, including the removal of organs and as such constitute a population which should be more efficiently protected, the report finds. Though criminal networks are heavily involved in human trafficking and people-smuggling into the EU, among the exploiters taking advantage of children are sometimes their own relatives. In some cases, even family reunification may be initiated under false pretences and may end in domestic servitude or other forms of forced labour, including prostitution or crime. The main trends in the field are summarised below.
Perhaps the most revealing trend is that although the numbers of unaccompanied minors irregularly entering the EU appear to have fallen in absolute terms (in line with the general reduction in migration at European and global levels) the proportion of minors involved seems to be increasing. For example, in 2008 approximately 15,700 unaccompanied minors claimed asylum in the EU. By July 2009 that figure already amounted to 8,500, despite a decrease in overall immigration figures. Furthermore, the soaring flow of unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan claiming asylum is a growing source of concern. In 2009 unaccompanied minors of Afghani origin remained in the top five, followed by Somali, Iraqi, Nigerian and Eritrean nationals. Overall, Afghani and Somali minors were identified as not only the largest groups, but also those considered most likely to grow in the medium term. Youngsters entering the EU irregularly from these countries are typically 16 to 17 years of age. The majority are male, as is the case with all migrant minor groups, with the exception of Nigerian nationals.
Afghani minors tend to favour the Eastern Mediterranean land or sea route to Greece via turkey, as do Iraqis and Iranians. It should be noted, however, that since the data-collection period for the study, the Turkey-Greece land route has become dominant among irregular migrants as a whole. Even unaccompanied minors from the Horn of Africa have shifted from their traditional Central Mediterranean route towards Greece, and once there, try to elude the detection and identification process and reach their final destination.
Unaccompanied minors from Nigeria, mostly female (aged 15-17 on average), are typically trafficked by air to the EU, boarding planes with facilitators and bearing genuine travel documents provided by local authorities, often through corruption. These documents are then handed to facilitators during the flight. On arrival they immediately apply for asylum as the only way to cross the border without valid travel documentation. Having been housed in reception facilities, these minors often call a pre-agreed contact number and disappear from care, from where they are taken to their place of employment, which usually implies prostitution (the British Asylum Screening Unit estimated that 60% of unaccompanied minors accommodated in social care centres go missing and are never found again). Nigerian organised crime groups run a highly professional human trafficking business based on travel documentation that provides false identity. Victims often also sign a voodoo pact before signing a USD 50,000 debt recognition.
Somalian unaccompanied minors, who are exempt from the Dublin II regulation as "vulnerable persons" are often the first family member to arrive in the host country. The strong family ties and clan culture in Somalia then make family reunification a likely outcome.
Minors from the People's Republic of China, India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Brazil also often travel by air using false documentation or/and false pretences as organised groups, students or for reasons of family reunification. Chinese minors are often engaged in forced labour as well as in the sex trade.
Member States Most Affected
Sweden is the most popular EU destination country for unaccompanied minors claiming asylum, experiencing an increase of 49% over the past two years (2008 and 2009). In particular, Somali, Afghani and Russian nationals are growing sharply in the figures, whereas the number of Iraqi minors claiming asylum has decreased. A Norwegian study of EURODAC (European fingerprint database) records established that 75% of young Afghanis claiming asylum there entered through Greece. The Netherlands is sometimes chosen to clear the minors' administrative situation by claiming asylum in order to obtain a certificate with asylum applicant's status. Some 90% of asylum applications in the Netherlands during the data-collection period were made inland, mostly at Amsterdam's Schipol airport, where the applicants claimed to have just arrived and crossed the border crossing point (BCP) unnoticed. Other European countries are also affected by nationalities using air routes such as Chinese and Indian nationals targeting the UK.
In line with the global downward trend of irregular migration, a drop in asylum figures for unaccompanied minors arriving in the EU is possible in the medium-term. However, two countries of origin will continue to stand out:
- Afghanistan remains highly unstable with little hope of peace in the foreseeable future. International governmental and non-governmental organisations describe the economic and political situation there as deteriorating. This is expected to continue to provide a strong push factor for migration, both regular and irregular.
- Somalia has seen a flow of 1.5 million internally displaced people and 561,154 refugees to neighbouring countries, many accommodated in appalling conditions. In addition, expected reinforcements of European legislation concerning minors from 16 to 18 may lead facilitators and families increasingly to start sending younger minors
Unaccompanied Minors in the Migration Process was compiled on the basis of data provided by Member States in the form of replies to a CIREFI (Centre for Information, Discussion and Exchange on the Crossing of Borders and Migration) questionnaire complemented by statistics from the European Migration Network (EMN). Additional data was provided by European Agencies (Europol and the Fundamental Rights Agency), international organisations such as the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and non-governmental organizations (Payoke). Intelligence from Frontex-coordinated joint operations was also used. The data analysed covered the whole of 2008 and the first half of 2009. It is important to note that due to different procedures and definitions in different Member States, as well as some information being unattainable, the quality of available statistics was by no means definitive and as such final data are approximate.