The Current

Unaccompanied refugee minors in Europe are disappearing

Humanitarian workers in Italy have been doggedly working to protect unaccompanied minors as child refugees and migrants pour into the country. Some estimate thousands of migrant children are simply disappearing into Europe... many looking for work. And fears of exploitation run high.
Boys chat as they arrive with migrants at the Sicilian harbor of Augusta. As many as 8000 minors have arrived unaccompanied on the shores of Italy, some as young as 8 years old, traveling alone. (Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)

For so many refugees, the gateway to Europe, and the chance of a better life... is Italy.  

According to Italian Government more than 116 000 migrants and refugees have entered Italy this year alone. Of them - it's believed over 8000 are unaccompanied minors, under the age of 18 with no parents, family or guardian.  Most are in their teens but some are as young as 8,9 or 10 years old, fleeing violence, poverty and oppression in their home countries. They're from Eritrea and Afghanistan.... Sudan and Syria.

Mahmour on a tiny pink scooter (left) does not want anyone to know his real age. He says he is 16 years old but it is clear to everyone he is maybe 10 years old. People line up for food or just hang out in the 40 degree heat in the streets of Rome. (Lara O'Brien/CBC)

And yet, once they arrive in Italy and its refugee camps, many of these children are disappearing. 

According to humanitarian workers, some are being picked up by human traffickers on the hunt for cheap labour. Worse yet, they say that some are falling victim to sexual exploitation. 

Others have set out to try the long and difficult journey to Northern Europe, all on their own.

In Rome there is a network of people trying to make sure these children don't fall prey to those wanting to do them harm, including Save The Children.

The Current's producer Lara O'Brien brings us the stories of these young refugees living alone in her documentary, "Vanishing Hopes." 

More from our special, No Way Home: Children of the Refugee Crisis

A drawing of the boat a young unaccompanied refugee boy was on before arriving in Italy.

​The Current's documentary editor is Joan Webber.