More than 88,000 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the European Union (EU) in 2015, 13 per cent of them younger than 14, according to data released yesterday.
Questions have been raised, however, as to how many are genuinely under 18 years of age after a number were revealed to be adults who had lied to authorities to gain more rights and benefits.
Figures from statistics agency Eurostat showed that the number of unaccompanied children quadrupled compared to 2014 as the migrant crisis hit its most intense point so far last year. Minors made up around a third of the 1.26 million asylum applications last year.
Euractiv says Sweden has been especially popular for children travelling without their parents. Four in 10 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the Nordic country, however suspicions are rising that some of these may be adults who were fraudulently claiming to be under 18 in order to win extra protection.
Indeed, Eurostat’s figures refer to applicants who are “considered to be unaccompanied minors”, meaning some EU member states may not have proved their age but merely accepted their declaration.
More than 90 per cent were boys and more than half were aged between 16 and 17. Around half were Afghanis while Syrians made up 16 per cent of the total.
The Swedish government came under pressure to verify the ages of child migrants earlier this year after two murders by “unaccompanied minors” who turned out to be adults.
Breitbart London reported on the stabbing of Alexandra Mazher at an asylum centre by a migrant who claimed to be 15 years old. It was later revealed he was in fact at least 20 years of age.
In a second case, a migrant reportedly stabbed a woman and slashed her across the face when she refused his sexual advances. Once again, the attacker claimed to be a minor but was later shown to be an adult.
Under Swedish law, migrants who claim to be minors cannot be sent back to their country of origin, thus providing a major incentive for applicants to lie.
Stockholm University pediatrics professor Anders Hjern said: “It’s obvious that there are strong incentives for saying that you’re younger than 18, everyone who has been involved in this for some time has heard about cases where young people have after a while admitted that they lied.”