Some 539 unaccompanied asylum seekers aged under 18 disappeared from the view of official Swiss agencies last year, up from 94 in 2015, or a six-fold increase, according to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) on Tuesday.
Official statistics showed that most of the disappearance cases, or more than 320, were minors of 16 to 17 years old, while some 134 cases were aged 6 to 15. Many of them often fled official reception centers and disappeared from the authorities’ radar after saying they want to claim asylum.
Reports last year suggested that in some parts of Switzerland, up to 90 percent of migrants allocated to reception centers to await the processing of their asylum application fled the centers shortly after arriving.
The migration office says it cannot really explain the big increase, as it’s proportional to the high number of asylum-seekers in Switzerland. So far this year, 310 minors have dropped off the SEM’s radar, while some 5,000 unaccompanied minors are currently living in Switzerland.
Experts have warned of a high risk that many of these young people could end up victims of trafficking or as delinquents, as young migrants were not always reported missing as non-migrant children would be.
In 2016, a total of 9,416 refugees aged between 12 and 18 were picked up at the Swiss border, more than half being 17 or 18, and only one in seven was female. The Swiss Border Guard said around half of those kids applied for asylum and were handed over to SEM. The other half were passed to foreign authorities, mostly to Italy.
The Swiss cabinet said these youngsters were turned away from Switzerland either because they didn’t fulfill entry conditions or because they wanted to travel through Switzerland to another country without applying for asylum.
According to the UN, each year millions of children cross international borders to flee wars and other conflict zones. Those unaccompanied by an adult or guardian are especially vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and sexual violence.
Requests for asylum in Switzerland plunged by more than a third to more than 9,000 in the first half of 2017, after authorities closed the Balkan land route used by thousands to flee conflicts in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
(ASIA PACIFIC DAILY)