European funds meant to support migrant children are being lost in bureaucratic processes, and this must stop, President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca said this morning in a strongly-worded message during which she expressed disappointment at the lack of a social conscience.

"When a child from our own family goes missing, the world stops. We do all that is within our power to secure the wellbeing and safe return of that child. Why, then, do our authorities not feel that same sense of urgency when it comes to unaccompanied migrant children,” the President asked.

It was up to civil society to promote the social conscience "that seems, I am sad to say, in increasingly short supply," she insisted.

The President was speaking at the Missing Children conference called Lost in Migration: Working together to protect children from disappearance. Those at the conference will be drawing a set of recommendations that will later on be presented at the informal meetings of the European ministers of Justice and Home Affairs.

According to Europol estimates, a quarter of those fleeing war, environmental devastation an extreme precarious,  and actually make it to Europe, are children. At least 10,000 children are still unaccounted for.

It was a “source of shame” that in 2017, as many as 10,000 refugee children were missing, the President said.

Where is the self-proclaimed safety and prosperity, of which we are so proud, as Europeans?

“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,” the President asked, urging for concrete efforts to work together and intensify collaborations across all borders.

“We can no longer accept that even a single child is lost. Unaccompanied migrant children are entirely dependent on our governments, authorities and policies.”

The President 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”.

She called for deeper coordination between governments and agencies at a national and transnational level, and a secure holistic policy based on long-term cooperation.

Earlier, Ms Coleiro Preca insisted that the wellbeing of migrant children must be a top priority on national and global agendas because the phenomenon of migration will only increase in importance over the coming decades.

Many countries were not adequately equipped to effectively address the growing numbers of refugees and migrants, and as a result, social tensions were increasing, she said.

"National and international support systems, where they exist, are struggling to provide effective outreach. Thousands of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are getting lost because of failing systems.

"We cannot allow quite a percentage of European funds, which are dedicated to provide assistance and support to migrant children, to continue being swallowed up by bureaucratic processes. Rather, they must be channeled into direct actions, which respond to the real needs of unaccompanied children. "

The President added that unaccompanied children were more exposed to harm and exploitation. They were targets of sexual violence and contemporary forms of slavery.

“Children are being taken advantage of, with deceptive promises of a better and safer future.

“We must be vociferous in calling for systems and structures which can meet the material needs of our children… We must address social and educational needs of every child. We must provide psychological support, alongside crucial information about their rights.”

The President said she hoped that over the next six months, Malta's EU Council Presidency would lead to a unified action plan for unaccompanied migrant children.

Malta will be the only Mediterranean country to hold the Presidency for the next few year, and  we must keep giving visibility to the fact that the central Mediterranean is the most deadly route for migrants seeking entry in Europe, she said. 

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