Six unaccompanied minors who were seeking asylum in Ireland went missing from State care last year, with the whereabouts of three of the children still unknown, Tusla, the State child and family agency, has said.
In a statement, Tusla said when a child in care is reported missing it notifies An Garda Síochána, who has primary responsibility for investigating the missing person cases.
The agency said in some cases where unaccompanied children are reported missing they have travelled to another country to join family, or had previously communicated they did not intend to stay in Ireland.
The agency said last year six unaccompanied minors in State care were reported missing. Three of the young people were later found or accounted for, while the whereabouts of the other three were still unknown.
“Tusla always remains concerned for the welfare of those minors who go missing from our care and who do not get back in touch,” a spokeswoman said.
There are currently 200 unaccompanied minors in State care, including 70 from Ukraine.
In the first instance where minors arrive seeking asylum without parents or guardians, Tusla seeks to try to reunite the children with their families. If that is not possible the young person is placed with a foster family, in a residential group home or in supported lodgings.
However, due to the “significant number” of unaccompanied minors who arrived in the last year Tusla said the children and teenagers increasingly had to be accommodated in emergency placements. These could include hotels, bed and breakfasts, or rented accommodation, with Tusla staff on site, until a more suitable placement was found.
Following the invasion of Ukraine last February, Tusla saw a large increase in the number of minors arriving in the State without parents, combined with an increase in unaccompanied minors arriving from other countries seeking asylum.
Earlier this month, the British government disclosed 200 unaccompanied minors who had been seeking asylum had gone missing in the United Kingdom, with reports children had been kidnapped from outside of a hotel run by the Home Office and trafficked causing significant political controversy.
Marissa Ryan, chief executive of Epic, an organisation that works with children in care, said “any child in the care of the State that goes missing is a huge concern”.
Unaccompanied minors often had experienced serious trauma and were among the most vulnerable in the care system, she said.
“We have seen in the UK that unaccompanied minors are being targeted by gangs and traffickers as they are specifically vulnerable,” she said.
Green Party TD Patrick Costello, a former social worker, said one child was “too many” to be unaccounted for after going missing from State care.
“The State as a whole has a poor record on human trafficking, recognising it, providing supports to victims and preventing it, we need to improve,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Tusla said the agency shared the concern about the increased risk of child and human trafficking, given the war in Ukraine and other factors leading to people being displaced.
Since early last year the agency had provided staff training on the issue of trafficking, which it was currently expanding to staff working in voluntary bodies it funded.