Missing migrant children
Who are they, where are they, how are they? They who are the present generation’s offspring that soon vanished in the smoke of war and neglect, they who might survive to become the future’s lost generation, the subject of novels, memoirs, movies and investigative documentaries. These are young human beings whose lives will mirror the strife in their not-so-distant past, whose bodies and souls will bear the scars of wars not of their own making.
What will they be like a decade or two from now?
Reports of missing migrant children have alarmed children’s rights groups. News reports say that Europol, the European Union’s police agency, has alerted authorities that at least 10,000 migrant children have gone missing in the last two years. That these children are unaccounted for means that they might have become endangered—that is, ended up in exploiters’ hands. But how did this happen?
Europol’s chief of staff Brian Donald said the children had been registered with state agencies upon their arrival in Europe but they have since disappeared from the system. It is not clear just how it was found out that they have disappeared, what the tracking system was that led to the discovery of their disappearance.
Donald was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that in Italy alone, 5,000 children have disappeared. “Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with.”
One may ask: Was there no tracking system in place? Many of these children might have traveled unaccompanied, sent off by their parents in the hope that they would survive somehow. Now they are on their own. This is not a movie like “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
Last year, over a million migrants and refugees braved the perilous seas to get to Europe in order to escape armed conflict in Syria. The stream of arrivals was met with varied reactions from governments and citizens, many of them unable to cope with the shock of suddenly finding strangers in their neighborhood, strangers who looked different, spoke unfamiliar languages, and behaved differently.
The photo of the corpse of Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi washed ashore on the Greek island of Kos last year stunned the world and broke hearts, but it did not deter more refugees from endangering their lives and those of their young ones. The deluge of compassion even emboldened more people to seek refuge, overwhelming Europe’s capacity to cope with the surge.
A more recent Associated Press photo showed a dead migrant boy being carried away by a Turkish police officer from the shoreline near the Aegean Sea. This one was just as heartbreaking, but it did not go viral. Maybe people are suffering from compassion fatigue?
The name of the boy is not yet known. He certainly has a name, a place of origin, a family, companions on the voyage. According to the caption, a boat carrying migrants to Greece hit the rocks off the Turkish coast last Saturday, killing at least 33 people, including five children. Some 75 were rescued.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-arms policy during last year’s surge of arrivals eventually yielded mixed results and reactions. There were the truly compassionate Germans, but the flood of refugees has also stoked some Germans’ dormant racist streak reminiscent of that dark chapter in Deutschland’s history. Other European countries had also to deal with the weight of countless human beings hobbling into their midst. Now there is talk that migrants will have to go back home when the conflict is over. Another problem there.
But the red flag about the missing migrant or refugee children is becoming worrisome. It is not simply a side story in this tragic saga of, to use a cliché, biblical proportions. That we often allude to the biblical era means that human and natural disasters continue to hound civilizations of this earth despite technological advances.
From the point of view of a journalist ever on the hunt for stories to tell, the stories of these missing migrant children—if they are eventually located—would later form a tapestry of lives lost and found. A symphony of sounds, a chorus of voices that will teach us about war and peace, evil and good, tragedy and triumph.
But will they ever be found? How? Where? What has become of them in the short time that they were away from their homeland?
Robert Hackwill of Euronews reported that criminal gangs may be using the migrant children as source of cheap labor. “A parallel report alleges clothes are being made by child refugees for H&M and Next in Syria. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre asked 24 chain retailers details of their employment policies, but only 10 replied. H&M and Next were among the only companies to act once it was discovered children had been making their clothes, the NGO added.”
One of my favorite “small books” is “The Gift of Story” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés (Jungian-trained psychoanalyst, keeper of stories and author of “Women Who Run with the Wolves”) that tells the story about stories. A child of Hungarian immigrants who survived the devastating war in Europe and fled to America, Estés inherited stories told by elders, stories about war and survival.
Writes Estés : “Stories can teach, correct errors, lighten the heart and the darkness, provide psychic shelter, assist transformation and heal wounds.”
I hope that someday, children who had vanished in the mist would find their way back to a clearing, there to start their journey back to life, and tell their stories.
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