Missing Children Europe’s new secretary general has called on EU member states to develop a sustainable, long-term solution to protect children who arrive at European borders, ahead of a conference in Malta tackling children lost in migration.

Aagje Ieven said inefficient cooperation between countries and the shortcomings of national asylum and child protection systems led children to mistrust the current systems and seek out dangerous solutions to reunite with their families and to have access to a better quality of life, or simply stay safe.

Ms Ieven is urging European leaders to address the lack of solidarity within Europe and to introduce a relocation mechanism following disembarkation.

Together with high-level European, UN and African representatives, Ms Ieven will be in Malta this week for the third ‘Lost in Migration Conference: Global Strategies and Political Commitments’, being held at the University of Malta Valletta Campus between tomorrow and Friday.

Organised by the President’s Foundation for the Well-being of Society and Missing Children Europe, the conference is geared to look beyond Europe towards the full migratory journey of the child.

“As a society, it seems we are still unable to see that those stranded in the Mediterranean are children first and foremost,” Ms Ieven said.

“We dehumanise these children and neglect their basic human rights because they are foreigners. If they were European, it’s doubtful we would accept situations like these,” she added.

Current data shows that over 30,000 unaccompanied children went missing between 2014 and 2017 and Ruth Farrugia, director general of the President’s Foundation, said Europe had a collective responsibility to protect all children.

“National reports show that children continue to go missing due to poor conditions in some reception centres, lack of information on their rights and options, slow and complex procedures for protection, lack of training for professionals in contact with children and lack of coordination at national and cross border level,” Dr Farrugia said.

“When it comes to Maltese children, we are galvanised into action to seek out and protect every single missing child – but all children deserve the same degree of protection.”

As part of this conference, the President’s Foundation has also secured the participation of Phosphorous Theatre of the UK which is composed of four young men who were themselves asylum-seeking children.

Their play, Pizza Shop Heroes, will be performed during the conference, with two free performances for the public on Thursday at Spazju Kreattiv, Valletta.