There has been an 80% increase over a three-year period in the number of unaccompanied minors arriving in Ireland and being referred to the child and family agency Tusla.

A report by the European Migration Network says that many of the unaccompanied minors wait years for clarity on whether they are legally entitled to remain.

The authors blame some of the delays on Tusla social workers who fear that if they apply to the authorities on the children's behalf, a negative decision would lead to the child absconding from foster care.

The European Migration Network is jointly funded by the European Union and national governments.

The report, which has been published by the Economic and Social Research Institute, recalls that in 2014, 97 minors arrived in Ireland without a responsible adult and were referred to Tusla, but that in 2017 the number almost doubled to 175.

The report attributes the acceleration to the global increase in refugee flows and to Ireland's commitment to dedicated schemes to accept under 18s.

The most common countries of origin were Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria and Ethiopia. 30% of the lone children were female and more than half were aged 16 and 17.

Last year, 22 unaccompanied minors arrived from camps in Greece while 41 came from unofficial settlements near Calais port.

While many were granted refugee status on arrival, the report says most unaccompanied minors have been arriving spontaneously, and that only a small proportion of them have secured an immigration status.

The report says delays by Tusla social workers in making the minors' applications have been criticised by the Ombudsman for Children, Non-Governmental Organisations and legal professionals working on relevant cases and cites research findings that the hold-ups may negatively impact on a minor's entitlements, including rights to family reunification.

The report says that, while most of these children eventually apply for protection, few receive a decision before turning 18 and it lays some of the blame on delays in Tusla social workers applying to the immigration authorities on the children's behalf.

It adds that in some cases social workers delay submitting applications because they feel that the child is not ready for the process or fear that a negative decision would lead to the child absconding from foster care.