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Uncertainty over at least 1 800 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who have disappeared in Sweden since 2013

In the last three and a half years, 1 829 asylum-seeking unaccompanied children have disappeared in Sweden, according to a report on Missing Unaccompanied Minors in Sweden. The County Administrative Boards of Sweden published the report on 17th of November 2016.

As of 31 May 2016, data has shown that 4% of all unaccompanied children assigned to a municipality by the Swedish Migration Agency, during the period of 2013 until May 2016 were categorised as “missing”.

In absolute figures, the largest numbers of children registered as “missing” are in the counties of the major cities. At the end of the research period, 305 missing children were registered in Västra Götaland County, 256 in Stockholm County and 191 in Skåne County. Norrbotten County has the highest share of missing children in relation to how many were assigned to the county’s municipalities. Of those assigned to a municipality in Norrbotten County, 6.4% were categorised as missing in May 2016. Dalarna County had registered 5.7% and Östergötland County 5.4% as missing.

“The number of unaccompanied children who disappeared is equivalent to 2 classes of children disappearing every month. What sort of society would accept this? Based on this mapping, we can confirm that the more uncertain the situation around the unaccompanied child is, the greater the risk of them disappearing during their reception by authorities,” says Amir Hashemi-Nik, Development Manager at the Stockholm County Administrative Board, which conducted the study.

Children from Morocco and Afghanistan represented are the largest groups of missing children, followed by children from Somalia, Algeria, Eritrea and Syria.

According to the 255 municipalities that responded to the questionnaire, the foremost reasons that unaccompanied children go missing, after having been assigned to the municipality, are asylum application rejections, the perceived risk of such a rejection and the fear of being deported.

The study also points to changes in Swedish legislation in several areas in the past year that have entailed greater uncertainty and therefore a greater risk of disappearances. Some of the legislative changes in Sweden include the enactment of temporary residence permits for refugees, a limited right to family reunification for unaccompanied children and the end of the right to financial assistance after an asylum rejection decision becomes legally enforceable.

According to the social service units that responded, the most common warning signal that a child is likely to disappear is low attendance at school. Another common risk behaviour is that the child is often away from the shelter they live in and avoids contact with staff. Many unaccompanied children suffer from trauma and addressing mental health issues early on is another important effort to prevent them from disappearing.

The report also identified phases in the asylum process where the support services available to children must be strengthened to keep children from disappearing. Several possible preventive measures are also mentioned especially in the arrival phase. For example, before the first meeting with the Swedish Migration Agency, the children should meet with a legal guardian or another external with legal expertise.

“We need to get better at giving all unaccompanied children clear and readily available information about the asylum process and strengthening the support available to children who receive a rejection decision to better prepare them for the return process. It is by creating security around the child that we reduce the risk of them going missing and being exploited” says Amir Hashemi-Nik.

The mapping conducted in the report on Missing Unaccompanied Minors in Sweden is the most up to date and comprehensive research conducted of the situation in Sweden regarding missing unaccompanied children. It is a part of the broader effort where the county’s administrative boards together with other authorities will now analyse the results and propose concrete measures to the government. In 2017, relevant actors will continue working regionally to prevent unaccompanied children from disappearing and respond more effectively when it has been confirmed that a child is missing.

The summery of the “Report on Missing Unaccompanied Minors in Sweden” will be translated to English and available early December on this page.

Author biography

Amir Hashemi-Nik

Development Manager

County Administrative Board of Stockholm,
Unit for Labour Market and Rights Issues

Amir Hashemi-Nik is Development Manager at the County Administrative Board of Stockholm, working at the moment with coordinating the national assignment (from the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs) on missing unaccompanied children in Sweden. Previously, Amir managed an EU funded project on Human Rights education for newly arrived young refugees. He has also worked together with the Council of Europe on organizing events for and by young refugees addressing related issues on European level. Amir has also worked with refugee issues on UN level, particularly with a social development project for Palestinian refugees in Aleppo, Syria. Amir acquired both his political science degree, and his masters degree in International Social Development, in Sydney, Australia.