Last year more than 6,000 children tried for asylum in Europe, an increase of 60 per cent, according to figures from the United Nations refugee agency. In 2008 that number was 3,800.And these latest counts could be just a fraction of the true number of child migrants, the UN warns, because many do not apply for asylum, either because they don't know they have a right to, or because they fear applying might lead to them being deported. "We even had one little boy who was only seven," said social worker, Paolo Sola who works at a child migrant centre just outside Venice. "He stayed three weeks and then he left. It was very difficult for us to accept, because we wanted to protect him, but we can't keep them here against their will. We can only advise them what they might experience on the journey, but mostly they don't believe us," he told the BBC. The centre, converted from a disused army barracks is seeing five new arrivals from Afghanistan every week. Similarly, Maureen MacBrien, UN field worker helping migrants in Calais said: “The youngest boy we have here is nine, and since I started work here in September I have seen the number of under-18s increase”
The child’s journey across Europe usually starts in Greece, after a dangerous trip from Afghanistan through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. Abdullah, now 17 started his journey out of Afghanistan when he was 11, after both he and his father, members of a minority community, were threatened by the Taliban. "If I had stayed, I risked being killed," he said.
For a while, Abdullah worked Iran, earning money to pay for the next stage of his trip. He then moved on to Turkey from where he crossed over to Greece in an inflatable dinghy. "From Greece I hid between the wheels of a lorry on a ferry to Italy," he said. "It took 40 hours, with no food and only one bottle of water. It was very difficult, and I was very scared."
Abdullah was rightly scared. In the past year, at least two Afghan boys, one only 13, have been killed trying to make the same journey. The lack of a joined up European Union policy and failure to protect child migrants makes their experience all the more dangerous, say aid workers.
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children