Research Lost in Europe on suicide (attempts) among young asylum seekers

Lost in Europe is researching suicides and suicide attempts among refugee children and young people in the Netherlands and Germany. Now the first publication by investigative journalist and Lost in Europe member Qali Nur has been released. This one focuses on the Netherlands.

The article was published on Dutch medium VPRO Argos, and talks about professionals with serious concerns around the mental health of young asylum seekers, including the explosive rise of self-destructive violence. More than 2,000 incidents were reported between 2016 and mid-2020 in which underage asylum seekers went on hunger and thirst strike, injured themselves, attempted suicide or threatened suicide. Just over 500 such “self-destructive actions” were recorded in the previous decade.

What is striking: the responsible body in the Netherlands – the COA – has little insight into how often suicide occurs among young asylum seekers or specific groups of migrants. Moreover, this registration is divided among several parties and is difficult to trace. On the other hand, there are the stories of the people who are close to the young asylum seekers. Social workers within the migrant communities who work with children and young people all know a story of someone with suicidal thoughts, or someone who actually ended their life.

But it is especially after the age of eighteen that the young people break mentally. They are then seen as adults by the law and lose the automatic protection that the Dutch state must offer refugee children. For example, children are always entitled to shelter, education and health care. Once grown up, they lose those rights. The stress that comes with it is too much too handle for some.

The full piece can be found here (in Dutch).

Experiences up close

Another in depth article by Qali was simultaneously published. Argos and Small Stream Media spoke to over ten caregivers and mentors for this research. This article tells their experiences from working with these young, often traumatised, asylum seekers up close.

Especially migrant children who traveled to the Netherlands unaccompanied, suffer from above-average levels of stress, trauma and suicidal thoughts. There is no adequate help, doctors and therapists report. “The will is there, but the resources are not,” so the professionals say.

The system is fragmented, they say, and cooperation between parties responsible for healthcare is difficult. Healthcare providers are regularly confronted with a dilemma. Many children need psychological help, but for psychological treatment it is important that someone is in a safe environment and in a stable situation. Completely the opposite of the situation in which unaccompanied minors, children, find themselves.

The full piece can be found here (in Dutch).

Photo: Inge van Mill