No one knows how many unaccompanied Afghan children have made it to Europe. Paris took in just over 300 in 2011 – the biggest nationality among the 1,700 lone foreign minors in its care. Sarah Di Giglio, a child-protection expert with Save the Children in Italy, says that last year the number of Afghan boys – there are almost never girls – passing through a day centre in Rome had doubled from the year before, to 635.
Asylum statistics are another measure, though they give only a rough indication since many children never make a claim. Still, at 4,883, Afghans were the biggest group of separated foreign children requesting asylum in 2010, the majority in Europe.
While some are sent out of Afghanistan for their own safety, others make their own decision to leave. Some are running from brutality, or the politics of their fathers, or recruitment by the Taliban. Others have been pushed onwards by the increasing precariousness of life in Pakistan and Iran, countries that host three million Afghan refugees.
Blanche Tax, who is responsible for country guidance at the United Nations refugee agency in Geneva, says security is deteriorating in Afghanistan, which Unicef described two years ago as the world’s most dangerous place to be a child. From January to September, she said, 1,600 children were reported killed or injured, 55% more than the previous year.