Lost in Europe, a cross-border journalism project investigating missing child migrants in Europe, has uncovered a shocking figure of 51,433 children who have disappeared after arriving in European countries between 2021 and 2023.

In 2022 alone there were 20,915 children missing.

It's possible that the number of missing children is even higher because the data was only collected from 16 countries, including Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

According to the available data, Italy has the highest number of registered missing unaccompanied minors with a total of 22,899, followed by Austria (20,077), Belgium (2241), Germany (2005), and Switzerland (1226).

In the Netherlands, 850 unaccompanied minors went missing. 241 of them were 15 or younger.

“The fact that we do not know where so many children are and how they are doing should concern us as the Netherlands. Protection of children should be the highest priority. Countries in Europe are apparently still failing to provide this protection,” said Conny Rijken, National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking, to Small Stream Media.

Over the past few months, Lost in Europe has been gathering data on missing unaccompanied child migrants from all EU member states, including Norway, the UK, Switzerland and Moldova. Their research has examined available data on missing unaccompanied minors between 2021 and 2023, categorised by age, gender, and country of origin. Despite reaching out to 31 countries, only 20 provided official responses. Countries such as Greece and Poland had no available data, while others like the UK, France, and Hungary did not respond at all.

Notably among the missing were 19,250 missing minors from Afghanistan. This could be due to the fact that many fled Afghanistan as the US and NATO troops withdrew and the Taliban took control in the fall of 2021.

The figures have been described as “worrying” by Aagje Ieven, Secretary General of Missing Children Europe.

“The increased number of reports on missing unaccompanied minors serves as a sharp reminder of the giant iceberg that looms beneath the surface”, Ieven told Small Stream Media.

“This is a child protection emergency exacerbated by punitive border policies and the lack of safe and legal routes for children within Europe to move between member states safely “, said Patricia Durr, CEO  ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking). “Unaccompanied children will also be at heightened risk of going missing and recruited into exploitation as they transition to adulthood; particularly those with a precarious immigration status.”

“Many vulnerable children fleeing violence in Europe remain missing, and the problem is exacerbated by a lack of reports and those who do not know how to report”, concludes Ieven.



Lost in Europe has previously gathered data on missing unaccompanied minors, with the latest data being collected in 2021 from 12 countries. During this period, a total of 18,292 registered cases of missing minors were reported between 2018 and 2020. Furthermore, in 2017, it was reported that 7024 minors disappeared from asylum centres in Europe. These investigations have raised serious concerns that the issue has only worsened over time.

In a response to our findings, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson told Small Stream Media:

“I can't verify these numbers, but I can verify that we have a broken migration system that we are now healing with a new pact on migration and asylum. And it's much needed and very much especially for the children, where we are really strengthening the protection of children, especially the unaccompanied minors, but also the registration.”

This publication is supported by the Fred Foundation.