Number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum steady despite wars and forced conscription
GENEVA, Nov. 13 (UNHCR) - Although increasingly the victims of war and civil disturbance and often conscripted into military service against their will, the number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in 17 European countries has remained stable during the past two years.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that in the 17 European countries where data was available for both 1999 and 2000, the number of unaccompanied or separated children who submitted asylum applications remained steady both in their number (between 15,000 and 16,000) and in the percentage (four) of total asylum seekers.
The refugee agency said the unaccompanied children "may be seeking asylum because of fear of persecution or the lack of protection due to human rights violations, armed conflict or disturbances in their own country."
"The fact that these children and adolescents are separated from their parents or their legal or customary caregiver increases the risks of them being exposed to exploitation, including trafficking, or abuse," the report added.
Last year, some 16,100 such children applied in 26 European countries. The proportion of unaccompanied children in the number of total applications submitted differed widely from country to country. In Hungary and The Netherlands, unaccompanied children accounted for 15 percent of all applicants, while in Slovakia the proportion was nine percent.
In the remaining 23 European countries studied, however, the proportion of asylum applications from unaccompanied children represented five percent or less of the total.
While governments reported the data, UNHCR cautioned that the extent of the problem of unaccompanied children under 18 years of age seeking asylum in Europe is difficult to determine due to the lack of accurate data. Some countries, for instance, provide figures in the form of estimates without indicating basic information such as country of origin, age, and sex.
Whatever the figures, they represent a tiny portion of the number of children forced to leave their countries because of violence. Experts say that fully half of the world's refugees and displaced persons are children, and that more than two million of them have been killed in conflicts around the world during the past decade.
The Netherlands, with 6,705 applications, received the largest number of asylum claims last year from unaccompanied children under 18, followed by the United Kingdom, 2,733, Hungary 1,170, Germany, 946, Belgium 848, and Switzerland 727.
UNHCR said that the available data suggests that unaccompanied children seeking asylum are between the ages of 16 and 17. For six countries - Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland - this age group accounted for about half of all unaccompanied children seeking asylum. In three of the countries, Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Spain, all of the children seeking asylum belonged to this age group.
The report also said that unaccompanied children seeking asylum are predominantly male, with females representing just 27 percent of the 8,760 children for whom information was available.