The numbers game: migration of children to Europe

By Rachel Humphris

The IOM / UNICEF data briefing on Migration of Children to Europe begins with the statistic that ‘more than one in five refugees and migrants arriving by sea in Europe in 2015 is a child’[1].

The briefing, published in November 2015, highlights how migration routes differ. The report details that from those who arrive in Italy by sea, more than 10 per cent are children (15,000 children). Whereas children make up 26 per cent of arrivals in Greece (189,800 children).

There is a lack of disaggregated data from the Greek arrival route but of the 15,000 children arriving in Italy 29 per cent are from Eritrea, 13 per cent from Syria, 11 per cent from Egypt, 9 per cent from Somalia, and 7 per cent from Nigeria.

The number of children is reported to be increasing. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in June 2015, 10 per cent of refugees and migrants were children. In October 2015, this had increased to one third.

In light of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that the number of children seeking asylum in Europe has increased. In 2015, more than 160,000 asylum applications were from children. Children from Syria (25%), Afghanistan (18%) and Iraq (6%) accounted for 49 per cent of all child asylum claims in the EU. Children from the Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia) make up 27 per cent of all asylum applications from children, according to the data used by IOM.

The report also states the number of unaccompanied children in Europe is rising. In 2014, more than 23,000 unaccompanied children made applications for asylum. In 2015, Sweden alone has received 23,300 asylum claims from unaccompanied children. Italy has registered 10,820 UASCs arriving by sea. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia registered more than 15,000 UASCs crossing the Greek border between June and November 2015.

Crucially, the report notes that it is very difficult to get accurate numbers for unaccompanied children as formal registration procedures in some European countries do not allow their identification.

PICUM maintains that there are unreliable estimates for the number of child migrants in the European Union. They highlight that although data is available for some groups of regular migrants, including asylum seekers, disaggregated data on children in asylum-seeking families and data on unaccompanied children who do not seek asylum is not systematically collected and available in all member states.

Data collected on apprehensions and in some cases for arrivals, for example, Eurostat figures illustrate that 10 percent of people apprehended for being irregularly present in the territory of the 28 EU member states in 2013 were aged 17 years old or younger (5 percent between 14 and 17 and 5 percent younger than 14 years).

There are expressions of a general trend of growing number of unaccompanied and separated children have been arriving in Europe (UNICEF / UNHCR)[2] however widespread agreement that data is patchy at best and incomparable across Member States. Statistics in many reports seem to draw on Eurostat data[3] and, for young people who do not claim asylum, estimations from the European Migration Network[4].


[2] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Safe and Sound: what States can do to ensure respect for the best interests of unaccompanied and separated children in Europe, October 2014, available at: [accessed 18 February 2016]

Unaccompanied Migrant Children In The EU, European Parliamentary Research Service, January 20, 2016 [accessed 18 February 2016]

[3] European Migration Network (2013) Unaccompanied Minors in the EU [accessed 18 February 2016]

[4] European Migration Network (2015) Policies, practices and data on unaccompanied minors in the EU Member States and Norway Annexes to the Synthesis Report May 2015 [accessed 18 February 2016]


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