360 unaccompanied child asylum seekers have disappeared from Dutch asylum shelters since January 2022, according to figures from the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). By far the most children – 237 – disappeared from the asylum application center in Ter Apel, AD reports.
According to the COA, 4,449 unaccompanied children sought asylum in the Netherlands last year. Like adult asylum seekers, they must first report to the immigration service in Ter Apel, after which they’re sent to asylum shelters.
But many of these children never arrive at the independent location. According to missing persons figures AD requested from the COA in collaboration with journalist collective Lost and Europe and Argos, 360 children have disappeared in the Netherlands, including 237 from Ter Apel.
Last year, Children’s Ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer said that children were being neglected at the Ter Apel asylum application center and that the Netherlands’ asylum policy was violating children’s rights. UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, also raised concerns about the safety of the children staying at the center in Ter Apel.
What happened to these children is unclear. The COA reported possible human trafficking to the Expertise Center for Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling. According to AD, these reports show that locals have reported seeing “black girls and boys regularly picked up by both German and Dutch (older) men just outside the asylum shelters.”
Early this year, the United Kingdom reported that children were disappearing from hotels used as emergency shelters. In 18 months, 136 unaccompanied children disappeared from a hotel in Brighton.
The Netherlands also accommodates asylum seekers in hotels. But children aren’t disappearing from Dutch hotels on a large scale. According to the COA figures, 15 unaccompanied child asylum seekers have disappeared from hotels where they were sheltered since 2022.
In 2020, the National Rapporteur against Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence against Children reported that 97 percent of Vietnamese children taken in by a protected asylum shelter in the Netherlands had disappeared. They’ve fallen into the hands of human traffickers, he said.