Croatian NGOs Worried about Missing Migrant Children

Total Croatia News

There are 187 refugee and migrant children whose whereabouts are unknown.

Since September 2015, the total of 217 foreign children without adult accompaniment have been identified in Croatia, but only about thirty of them are currently located in accommodation facilities, reports Jutarnji List on January 27, 2017.

An activist of an association engaged in providing aid to refugees applied recently at the social welfare centre to become a volunteer foster parent for foreign children which were found in Croatia unaccompanied – mostly during operations in which police arrests smugglers who illegally transfer refugees across the border.

Experts from the centre received her warmly, because the number of foster parents is small, while there are a lot of unaccompanied children. They offered her to become a foster parent for five boys. The activist immediately went to meet the children. What she saw completely shocked her: one of the children was nowhere near to being a minor, while three children no longer resided in the institution in which they were accommodated and no one knew where they were.

When she went back to the social welfare centre, they told her that this was a problem that they could not solve, because they had no official notification that the child was not really a child, and that some of these children had run away.

From 15 September 2015, when the first wave of refugees started passing through Croatia, until the end of 2016, the total of 217 unaccompanied foreign children were identified in Croatia. There were mostly boys aged 13-18, who were travelling alone, mostly to western European countries. Most of the children were caught after the borders were sealed and after the migrant route was closed down, mainly during illegal crossings of the border, usually in groups which were transported by human traffickers.

Such a large number of unaccompanied children overwhelmed the social care system. Just 30 of these children are currently located in Croatia, but even that is the largest number of such persons ever to be located at the same time on Croatian territory, according to the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy. Where are the other 187 children? The Ministry of Demography has no information, and the Interior Ministry has not given an answer.

Some of them have probably been reunited with their families in other countries, but most of them have fled and illegally entered another European countries. “Young children usually do not run away. They may leave the care centre, but they return soon after. Older children do not return. We think they get in contact with similar groups in Croatia and flee”, said the Ministry of Demography.

The latest such case involved three young men from a care centre in Zagreb. There were some of the boys whom the police found in mid-December in serious condition in a van crammed with 64 other refugees. Although they immediately expressed their wish to seek asylum in Croatia, experts claim that they had done that just in order to protect their status: if they did not seek an asylum, they would be considered as illegal immigrant and be immediately extradited.

Children caught unaccompanied are placed in care centres for children. They can keep all their personal belongings, such as mobile phones, and all institutions in which they are accommodated must have an open doors policy, which means they can walk out whenever they want.

“They usually want to go to one of the richer countries, such as Italy, Sweden, France. Most of them have relatives in these countries and openly say they want to join them. However, the procedures are slow, since these countries are not obliged to accept them. Family reunification, which is mandatory, applies only to children and parents”, said the Ministry.

The Ministry currently can accommodate between 70 and 100 children, but the number of children which have been found in Croatia, even after the migrant route was closed down, surprised the authorities. According to NGOs, the system is not ready at all. “As far as we know, none of the children attend high school, and many of them do not have an interpreter, which means that many of the facilities are inaccessible to them since they do not understand the language”, warned the Are You Syrious? initiative.


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