Thousands of children disappear without a trace in Europe every year. The investigative collective, Lost in Europe, investigates what happened to these refugee children. With support from the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, Free Press Unlimited will create a platform to combine the forces of journalists, whistleblowers and citizens in the investigation.

At the start of 2016, Europol Chief of Staff Brian Donald stated that in Europe at least 10,000 refugee children are missing. Who are these children and what happened to them? What is certain is that some of these children fall into the hands of criminal networks and human traffickers. We just do not know how many.

Sporen van vluchtelingenkinderen in Europa

In the smuggling area near Bladel, between the Netherlands and Belgium, clothes of migrants who are traveling trough the woods are lying on the ground, among them are diapers and rompers. Photo: Geesje van Haren.

What is known, is disturbing. According to the UN, more than 75% of these young refugees who travel to Europe, face exploitation and sexual abuse. Children are found when cannabis plantations are rolled up, in nail studios and in brothels. One third of the 2,000 children went missing after ‘the jungle’ near Calais was cleared out.

Authorities shirk their responsibility, even though governments have a duty to care for and protect children found within their national borders, either legally or illegally, registered or not.

Lifting the veil

In 2017, a group of Dutch investigative journalists set up the Lost in Europe project to pull the missing children out of the black hole into which they seem to have disappeared. By means of investigation, they attempt to discover what happened to these children. The investigative journalists also want to contribute to a structural solution to this problem by exposing the causes and making those responsible aware of this problem. Meanwhile, journalists from Italy, Belgium and the United Kingdom have also become involved in Lost in Europe.

Safe online platform

Free Press Unlimited is working on an online platform to support the collective. Journalists can collaborate and whistleblowers can share information with them anonymously in a safe working environment. European citizens are invited to support the investigation by sharing tips and ideas with the journalists. Furthermore, with a public app, they can closely follow the investigative work of journalists and get in touch with them. Free Press Unlimited previously set up whistleblower platforms like Publeaks. This expertise will be used to support the investigative journalists of Lost in Europe.

The collective will be expanded further with journalists operating across Europe. VersPers, the driving force behind the Lost in Europe investigative collective, will arrange some data bootcamps and targeted training for these journalists. Children’s rights organisation Defence for Children is also involved in the project. It will work on policy influencing at European and national level, using the stories from the investigative journalists as important ammunition.

Initial successes

Lost in Europe has already booked important results. For instance, Secretary of State Harbers called for a new investigation into the disappearance of 60 Vietnamese refugee children from asylum centres, after an Argos report on this subject. Also, the first major stories about Lost in Europe appeared in foreign media, in the British Newspaper, The Guardian, the Flemish weekly Knack and the Italian newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano.

Click here for more information about Lost in Europe.

Photo above the article: Joel Carillet.