The demolition of the Calais “Jungle,” a vast migrant camp that had grown up around the entrance to the tunnel connecting France and the United Kingdom, left scores of children adrift amid smoldering ruins in October. Like the adult migrants around them, these unaccompanied minors, some as young as 8, had made it as far as Calais, hoping to find sanctuary in Great Britain. The plight of these children and teens highlights the growing problem of unaccompanied child migrants throughout Europe.
Nearly 90,000 children unaccompanied by parents or other guardians sought asylum in Europe in 2015—four times the number in 2014. Thirteen percent of them were under the age of 14. Most are boys between the ages of 16 and 17; many represent the one family member sent off, after pooling meager family resources, to escape conflict zones to a better life. That hope can be misplaced. In January, the E.U. police intelligence agency Europol estimated that at least 10,000 child refugees have gone missing since arriving in Europe. It is feared many have become victims of exploitation by human traffickers and criminal gangs, who force them into prostitution, child labor and the drug trade.
These children and teens have been making their way through Europe in flight from war and ISIS terror in the Middle East or escaping other conflicts and extreme poverty in Africa. The United States experiences much the same desperate phenomenon at its southern border as unaccompanied children flee north to escape poverty and gang- and narco-violence. Perhaps putting heads together at the United Nations on this shared dilemma can lead to an effective and humane global response to this especially heartbreaking migration challenge.