Unaccompanied minors at a hostel in Germany | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/B.Settnik
Unaccompanied minors at a hostel in Germany | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/B.Settnik

Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, reports a sharp drop in the number of children and adolescents who fled to the EU by themselves last year. The total marks the third straight year of falling numbers.

The number of unaccompanied foreign minors registered in a EU member state in 2018 totalled around 19,700, roughly a third fewer than the previous year. That's according to a Friday report by the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat.

That total marks the third straight year of falling numbers and is close to pre-2015 levels before migration to Europe from the Middle East and Africa hit a record high.

Of the 2018 total, 86 percent were male, and around three-quarters were aged 16 or 17, Eurostat said. The top countries of origin were Afghanistan, Eritrea, Pakistan and Syria.

Germany and Italy were the top destination countries. Combined, they took in four in ten applicants. At the same time, both countries saw a drop by more than half in the total number of applications - the biggest declines of all EU countries. Germany received around 4,100 unaccompanied minors (compared to 9,100 in 2017), while Italy accepted around 3,900 (compared to 10,000 in 2017).

The UK  and Greece were the only two countries were numbers increased last year compared to 2017 (2,900 up from 2,000, and 2,600 up from 2,500, respectively).

Unaccompanied minors — defined as under 18 and lacking the supervision of a responsible adult — represent around ten percent of all asylum applicants under the age of 18. The vast majority of children and adolescents who arrive in the EU are accompanied by family members.

Mostly male, 16 or 17 years of age

The vast majority of unaccompanied under-age refugees (86 percent) who were registered in the EU last year were male. Three out of four were 16 or 17 years old; 14- and 15-year-olds made up 17 percent, while under-14-year-olds comprised 17 percent. More than half of them were citizens of six countries: Afghanistan, Eritrea, Pakistan, Syria, Guinea or Iraq (see tweet below).

Unaccompanied minors fleeing their home are regarded as particularly vulnerable and in need of protection. Hence, they are treated differently during the asylum process. In Germany, for instance, they are taken into care by the youth welfare office, which looks for a suitable family or a facility that can accommodate them. Unlike adults, under-age asylum seekers in Germany don’t stay in communal facilities.

In Italy, a total of 10,787 unaccompanied foreign minors currently reside, down from 18,000 registered at the end of 2017, according to Unicef. 

According to Eurostat, the number of unaccompanied minors arriving in the EU, which started rising in 2013 and totaled around 23,000 in 2014, spiked to a high point of 95,200 in 2015.

With material from dpa and epd

•••• ➤  Information about the asylum process for unaccompanied minors in Germany (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, BAMF)


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