The disappearance of migrant children in Norway

Migrant children are disappearing in Europe in troubling numbers. The organisation “Lost in Europe” can report that since they were founded in 2021 “18,000 unaccompanied child migrants have disappeared after arriving in Europe” (Lost in Europe, 2023). Some of these children have been trafficked throughout Europe. In Norway 432 unaccompanied minor asylum seekers have gone missing without a trace, and the police have done little to find them. Several of the minors that have disappeared cannot be found in the police’s systems, not all are reported missing, and many missing persons reports lay untouched for a long time before a case is opened.  This is a summary of the status in Norway, mainly comprising of articles from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) who have reported on this issue.

The Office for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Bufetat) are responsible for providing unaccompanied minors under 15-years-old the option of living at a care centre while their asylum application is being processed. While a minor is living in a care centre Bufetat are responsible for them. UDI is responsible for the asylum seekers over 15 years old, and they are moved from care centres to reception centres. The centres are a voluntary housing offer, and the residents can leave the premises when they so whish, and UDI holds no authority to detain or keep them at the premises. It is speculated that some of the minors that disappear are in fact legal adults. Many asylum seekers arrive undocumented, and a “presumed age” is not determined until the end of the asylum process. Nevertheless, the problematic nature of people disappearing without a trace remains.  

The newspaper “Utrop” reports that “between 1.1.2015 and 31.3.2021, 854 unaccompanied minor asylum seekers left Norwegian reception or care centres without providing a new address. The whereabouts of 422 of these are known, most of them residing abroad and 68 people have been granted residence and reside in Norway” (Holte, 2021). 412 unaccompanied minor asylum seekers had disappeared, seemingly lost without a trace. According to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) “a majority of those that move from a reception centre without providing a new address can be sorted into two groups: Those that left the reception centre very early in the asylum process, and those who left after they were rejected” (Holte, 2021).

Since 2015, 432 unaccompanied minors who have applied for asylum in Norway have disappeared. Several parties in the Norwegian Parliament demanded an investigation into the matter, but the proposal to investigate the cases was voted down. These children and youths are under the care of the government, who have a duty of confidentiality, so limited information about them is often available to the public. The police are often either involved late in the case, or take a long time opening up a case file, if one is opened up at all.

Most of the disappearances involve teenagers over 15 years old, but some involve small children. Five of the children were under 10 years old when they disappeared, and the youngest was 5. In a recent case from July 2023 a 17-year-old girl disappeared the night she arrived in Norway. The asylum reception reported her missing the day after she disappeared. The police first opened a missing persons file five days later. The police contacted the reception centre, and subsequently closed the case. The girl is yet to be found.  In a case from 2015 it took two months before the minor was reported missing. She was also never found.

In an analysis of 49 dismissed cases of disappearance of migrant minors Associate Professor Dr. Egil Hove Olsvik found that:

  • “In only two of the instances the police showed up at the location where the child disappeared from.
  • The police have not collected physical or electronic traces, have not conducted interviews with possible witnesses and have not carried out extensive searches in international police registers.
  • Notifications about human trafficking and prostitution have not been followed up.
  • Adults have collected children from reception centres without identifying themselves.” (Politihogskolen, 2023)


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Helledal, E., & Aarbakke, M. (2023, Aug. 30). Jente forsvant, politiet lette aldri. NRK. Hentet Sept. 05, 2023 fra

Helledal, E., Fossåskaret, R., Aarbakke, M., Sørnes, I., Gilleshammer, T., & Rognsvåg, S. (2022, Dec. 03). Den usynlige. NRK. Hentet Sept. 07, 2023 fra–expand

Holte, E. (2021, May 04). Barn som forsvinner fra asylmottak kan bli ofre for menneskehandel. Utrop. Hentet Sept. 07, 2023 fra

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Politihogskolen. (2023). Politihø Hentet Sept. 05, 2023 fra Avdekker svakheter om asylbarn som forsvinner:

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Aarbakke, M., Sørnes, I., Rongsvåg, S., & Helledag, E. (2022, Dec. 6). Hundrevis av barn og unge sporløst borte: Gutt (9) er fremdeles savnet etter syv år. NRK. Hentet Sept. 05, 2023 fra

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