Eleven minors pursuing asylum go missing

 

ELEVEN UNACCOMPANIED children seeking asylum in the Republic went missing from State care last year. Six of the children are still missing, according to new figures released by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The missing children are all under 18 years and arrived in the State without their parents or guardians to claim asylum. They are from several countries, including Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The figures were released yesterday by the HSE, which said it was working with the Garda and immigration authorities to detect those children who are missing.

A total of 512 unaccompanied children seeking asylum went missing from State care between 2000 and 2010. Just 72 of these children were subsequently found by the authorities.

“The HSE takes every incident of missing children 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,” it said in a statement yesterday.

Unaccompanied children who seek asylum in Ireland are considered extremely vulnerable to exploitation and sex trafficking because they have no parents or guardians in the country. Children’s charities and Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan have consistently criticised the care arrangements for this group of children, who until very recently were placed in hostels that had no proper supervision at night-time.

The HSE said yesterday it had closed the last two remaining hostels for unaccompanied minors as part of a major shake-up of the way in which it cares for this group of children. It said all children are now being cared for in foster care placements or in residential units.

On December 1st last, the HSE said 35 unaccompanied children were living in foster placements, 24 in children’s homes, 15 in hostels and 20 in supported lodgings. It said figures on foster placements that had taken place since the two unaccompanied children’s hostels closed on December 31st last, were still not available.

The HSE said the changes to the care for unaccompanied children reflected its Equity of Care Policy, which ensured that all children and young people received the same level of care it affords to indigenous children.

The number of unaccompanied children who went missing from State care last year was sharply down on the 47 children who went missing in 2009. In 2001, some 81 unaccompanied children went missing from care, which was the largest number to go missing.

The HSE said the reduction in children who went missing in 2010 was due to closer co-operation between the Garda National Immigration Bureau and the HSE social care services. A joint protocol agreed between the HSE and the Garda has been introduced, along with fingerprinting of under age people presenting at ports; collaborative interviewing between social workers and gardaí; and greater surveillance of children at risk of going missing at ports.

There has also been a reduction in the number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Ireland, said the HSE.