A woman who landed in Malta as a minor in 2002 is urging the authorities to facilitate fostering and adoption of unaccompanied migrants, which would ultimately help prevent the disappearance of children.
Wedeb Desira has become a point of contact for desperate mothers whose children go missing on their search for a better future in Europe.
“There are a lot of mothers crying for their children everyday because they don’t know what happened to them. Even if they are dead, these mothers would still like to know of their fate… at least they can get closure,” she told a conference on missing migrant children yesterday.
Ms Desira, who now lives in the UK, landed in Malta aged 16, on the first boat that arrived here with unaccompanied children.
She had fled with her younger sister after her parents, who are Ethiopian and Eritrean, were rejected by both countries. Being migrants on the move did not guarantee a sound future for the two daughters, so it was decided that they would be better off in Europe.
There are a lot of mothers crying for their children everyday because they don’t know what happened to them
Once in Malta, Ms Desira spent some nine months in detention before being moved to a residential home for girls with challenging behaviour. The young woman was then transferred to a home for unaccompanied minors, and was eventually adopted by care worker Mary Desira.
She feels she is one of the luckiest unaccompanied minors, and believes that if fellow migrants were provided with the same opportunity that she had, there would be fewer missing children.
The young woman told this newspaper that there are several families willing to help if the government made it a bit easier for them to foster and adopt a migrant child. She also urged for cooperation between NGOs and the authorities and better reception conditions.
Ms Desira knows of a woman who arrived in Malta as an unaccompanied minor and after paying to be smuggled to Sicily, ended up in prostitution to survive.
She was speaking at a conference called ‘Lost in Migration – Working Together to protect children from disappearance’ organised by Missing Children Europe and The President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society at Verdala Palace.
Opening the event, President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca called for concrete efforts, asking: “Where is the self-proclaimed safety and prosperity of which we are so proud, as Europeans? Where is the solidarity upon which our EU was founded?”
She also referred to the controversial children’s right to a nationality, as enshrined in Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, “which is being denied to vulnerable children by our very systems which should protect their rights”.
According to Europol, a quarter of those fleeing war, environmental devastation and extreme precarity, are children. At least 10,000 refugee children have gone missing.
Another speaker was a young man who told those present at the conference about his first challenging days here. Said fled Somalia for Europe as a teenager, and arrived in Malta aged 16. With his weekly €7 allowance, he had not been able to contact his family in Somalia to let them know he was all right, needing the money to cover his transport expenses while looking for a job.
But although grateful for the support he received here over the past three and a half years, he expressed disappointment that he has not yet been able to continue his studies as his protection status is still pending.
Fellow Somalian Ibrahim, who also arrived here aged 16, spoke of the moment he decided to leave Malta. Once abroad, he spent eight months living on the streets, before being discovered by the authorities and returned to the island.
The whole ordeal was distressing for Ibrahim, and in unfortunate instances, similar outcomes could also cost people their lives. Abdi had gone through a similar experience after arriving in Malta and travelling to Germany. He died by suicide when he was told he would be returned to Malta.
Realising that his efforts for a better future had all been in vain had psychologically distressed the young man, psychotherapist Elaine Micallef told this newspaper.
Ms Micallef urged those setting policies to listen to unaccompanied minors, especially when it came to education. Child refugees could not focus on their studies unless they were first granted protection and peace of mind.
Children are disappearing all over Europe
■ In Sweden, at least seven unaccompanied children go missing from their accommodation weekly;
■ In Slovenia, 80 per cent of children disappear from the open Asylum Home;
■ In Italy, 28 unaccompanied children go missing daily
■ In France, one in three child refugees went missing after the Calais refugee camp was demolished.