At least 170 Ukrainian youngsters under the age of 18 have fled the war to the Netherlands without their parents, but many are not being registered or given a guardian, refugee group Vluchtelingenwerk and Unicef have told broadcaster NOS.
Being Ukrainian, the youngsters are not required to report to the refugee settlement agency COA and so are not being provided with special accommodation, like other unaccompanied minors. This also opens them to the risk of being exploited or trafficked, the agencies say.
The figure of 170 has been derived from the number of youngsters who are registered with child protection services. ‘We are realistic and there is a good chance that other children have not been written in,’ a spokesman said. ‘So we would ask everyone to be alert and make sure children are registered with the local council or child services.’
So far only a handful of the youngsters have been given a guardian by the courts, NOS said. Child protection officers say most do not need this because they are still in phone contact with their parents in Ukraine, although this is disputed by child refugee group Nidos.
Nidos points out that unaccompanied children from other countries such as Syria may also be in touch with their family but are also given guardians in the Netherlands.
In a considerable number of other cases, the children have documents in which their parents declare the adult they travelled with, such as an aunt or older sister, is responsible for them. The immigration service must first check these documents are genuine before passing cases to child services for further action if needed.
The agencies say they are particularly concerned that no single organisation has contact with all the children. ‘No-one has oversight of the group,’ Vluchtelingenwerk’s Evita Bloemheuvel told broadcaster NOS. ‘Even if they are registered, without having a legal guardian it is difficult to arrange financial support or to register them with a school.’
In 2020, the NRC reported that over 2,500 children had disappeared from refugee centres in the Netherlands in the preceeding 10 years and no-one knows where most of them are.
Some of the under-18s will have travelled on to find family in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe but a proportion will have ended up in the hands of human traffickers or in prostitution, refugee agency COA said at the time.
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