Migrant children appear to be relieved and smiling as they are on they way to the EU. EPA/KOCA SULEJMANOVIC


Missing child migrant report lacks ‘alignment with reality’, Austria says

In a scathing conclusion, the Austrian interior ministry said "the complexity of the situation" highlighted the "need for a nuanced understanding" of the issue not present in the report.


Austria’s interior ministry has rejected a widely shared report on missing migrant children in Europe.

Speaking to Brussels Signal, a spokesperson for the ministry rejected the findings of the “Lost in Europe” collective, which claimed that around 47 children have vanished every day in Europe over the past three years.

In a report published on April 30, the group claimed that more than 50,000 unaccompanied child migrants have gone missing after arriving in Europe between 2021 and 2023.

Lost in Europe pointed to Italy and Austria as being particular black spots, with Austria said to have lost over 20,000 children.

Asked by Brussels Signal about the report, the Austrian interior ministry said it had “major concerns”, accusing it of lacking “alignment with reality”.

“While [the report] acknowledges the significant migration cluster in Central Europe due to the Balkan Route, it fails to consider crucial aspects that shape Austria’s unique circumstances as well as the complexity of the overall topic,” the ministry said.

“The piece overlooks the varying approaches and procedures among European countries, as well as the existence of undocumented cases, which seriously undermines the reliability of the data presented.”

The ministry also rejected suggestions that they had not properly kept track of vulnerable migrant children, adding that many of those recorded by the organisation as being minors likely were not children at all.

They went on to blast claims that many of these alleged children were victims of criminal and sex trafficking as being without evidence.

“The article’s narrative depicting minors as ‘untraceable’ and victims of criminal organisations lacks alignment with reality and expertise.”

It told Brussels Signal that “a significant number of refugees claiming to be minors and unaccompanied provide false information”.

“Medical tests often reveal discrepancies, with more than half of those tested proving to be older than stated,” it said.

Individuals may falsify their age to gain advantages within Austria’s welfare system and in legal proceedings, ie criminal court.”

Another important element, according to the ministry, was that many refugees arriving in Austria mistakenly assumed they were in Germany and moved on once they realised that, which contributed to the perception of missing persons, including unaccompanied minors.

“Refugees in Austria have the freedom to move within the country, in adherence to human rights principles, making it difficult for authorities to control secondary migration to other EU countries.”

The ministry noted that many of the minors leaving Austria did not simply disappear but resurfaced elsewhere within the EU, or the UK, where they are then subsequently registered.

It further highlighted: “According to our specialised investigation teams at the Criminal Intelligence Service [Bundeskriminalamt], there hasn’t been a single reported case of a missing unaccompanied minor refugee falling victim to a criminal network such as human trafficking.”

In a scathing conclusion, the Austrian interior ministry said “the complexity of the situation” highlighted the “need for a nuanced understanding” of the issue not present in the report.

“Any assertions or theories based solely on surface-level statistics risk oversimplification and may not accurately reflect the multi-faceted reality.”

In the original report, Lost in Europe admitted that its numbers painted only a partial picture, as the data sets are often “inconsistent and incomplete”, adding that “many countries in Europe do not even collect data on missing unaccompanied minors”.

It said it had asked for relevant information from all European Union countries, plus Moldova, Norway, the UK and Switzerland but only received a response from 20 nations, with just 13 providing actual data.

In addition, the authors added, individuals are sometimes counted several times based on reported disappearances.

Lost in Europe also pointed out that not all minors undergo age testing, and that many reception centres allow residents to move freely.

This gives certain migrants the opportunity to “disappear” if they so wish, an attractive option if they wish to claim asylum in another country.

According to Aagje Ieven, secretary-general of the NGO Missing Children Europe, youngsters are at greater risk from human smugglers and criminals.

“They are at a higher risk of being targeted by traffickers, if not already exploited by smugglers to pay off debts, or because they [traffickers] hold control over their loved ones or their passports,” Ieven told CNN.

“These risks are exacerbated by factors such as poor reception conditions, inefficient and slow family reunification procedures, fear of detention or deportation, mistrust and frustration with asylum procedures.”

Lost in Europe claims there are fears that some of the minors may have been trafficked or ended up in the sex industry. Other minors disappear voluntarily because they do not trust the government or to avoid reception conditions of the countries they are staying in, the journalists said.

The data found by Lost in Europe indicated a significant increase in the numbers of unaccompanied minors across Europe — between 2018 and 2020 “only” 18,000 missing minors had been reported in total, it said.

The largest group of unaccompanied adolescents classed as disappeared in Europe were from Afghanistan. Of the total 51,433 cases reported, at least 19,250 were Afghanis.

Other often-recurring countries of origin are Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco.

European Commissioner Ylva Johansson, responsible for migration in the EU, told the Dutch NRC newspaper the issue of missing minors was the result of “a broken migration system” and “an increase in ‘secondary movements’”.

Secondary movements are when asylum seekers are registered in one Member State but move on to other EU countries.

Johansson insisted that the new Migration Pact, approved on April 10, will change the situation and increase refugee protections.

Patricia Durr, chief executive of ECPAT UK, a children’s rights organisation, disagreed, saying she believed the Migration Pact would have a detrimental impact.

“Measures such as including children within detention for screening purposes is a clear breach of their rights under international law and will increase their vulnerability to going missing, abuse and trafficking,” she claimed.