500 children seeking asylum went missing from care in decade

 

MORE THAN 500 unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Ireland have gone missing from State care in the past decade, according to new figures released by the HSE.

Between 2000 and 2009 a total of 501 children went missing from the care of the HSE. Sixty-seven of them, or 13 per cent, have been successfully traced.

Of a total of 47 unaccompanied children seeking asylum that went missing from State care in 2009, nine were later successfully traced by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB).

The number of children who went missing last year was over twice that who went missing in 2008. The number missing last year was higher even when those later located were considered.

A total of 22 unaccompanied minors went missing from State care in 2008, while the location of five children was later established. In 2007, of a total of 32 missing minors, 12 were traced.

The number of missing minors has fallen since the 2000-2006 period, when an average of 51 minors who were never traced went missing each year.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said every case of a minor going missing in State care was treated “extremely seriously”.

“The HSE takes every incident of missing children extremely seriously and is committed to ensuring that any vulnerable children are not exploited or ill-treated as part of its responsibility to provide care for any children in the State who are deemed not to have appropriate or satisfactory care arrangements,” she said.

While the majority of missing individuals in question had purported to be children on entering the country, “substantial operational experience” existed to indicate that at least some may be adults.

She noted that three missing Chinese nationals who presented as children to the GNIB in December were later traced and assessed to be adults by the HSE social work service.

The spokeswoman said the issue of separated children who go missing from care was complex, and was sometimes simplified and sensationalised.

“It has been unsubstantiated that any of the children who go missing from HSE care have been trafficked.”

Statutory agencies in Ireland have noted several factors that may contribute to the disappearance of a child from care, she added, including:

  • The child’s appeal for asylum has been refused and he/she is nearing 18 and is reacting to the pending threat of deportation.
  • The person has been smuggled into the country to join the workforce on a consensual basis and is availing of the child protection service as a fast track route into the State.
  • The child has been brought in by traffickers using the child protection service as an easy route.

The spokeswoman added that the HSE has collaborated with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the development of the National Action Plan on Anti-Human Trafficking.

“We will expend every effort to fulfil our commitments to combat trafficking as outlined in this plan,” she said.

Between 2000 and 2008 approximately 7 per cent of unaccompanied minors dealt with by the HSE have gone missing.