Over 10,000 Refugee Children Missing, Feared To Be Exploited By Criminals

The EU’s criminal intelligence agency is reporting that Europe’s refugee crisis is being taken advantage of by human traffickers and refugee children seem to be suffering the most as over 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after their arrival in Europe.

The migrant crisis has been an issue that has had worldwide attention since it began but Europol’s current findings are reportedly the very first attempt by any law enforcement agency to quantify what is deemed to be one of the most troubling issues with the flow of migrants into Europe, the plight of unaccompanied refugee children. Europol’s chief of staff, Brian Donald, advised the Observer that thousands of vulnerable minors had simply vanished since registering with the state authorities. The agency believes and has warned that many of these children and young persons were being forced into slavery and being sexually exploited by criminal gangs. The organization Save the Children says that approximately 26,000 child migrants have arrived in Europe without any family in the last year alone. The report is Europol’s first releasing of an estimate that takes the whole of Europe into account.

Donald related that at least 5,000 of the missing children have disappeared from Italy alone, a figure that Italian officials gave May, 2015, as having gone missing from asylum reception centres from the previous year. In October, another 1,000 children were said to have vanished from Trelleborg in southern Sweden within the space of a month of their arrival. The chief of staff for Europol stressed that a “criminal infrastructure” that has EU-wide operations may be specially targeting refugee children.

“It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children. Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with.

According to BBC News, Europol also stated that a large percentage of the missing refugee children may have disappeared straight from Greece itself since the country is the first entry point for most of the 1 million migrants who arrived in Europe in 2015. Many have criticised authorities for failing to properly register or check the refugees upon arrival.

Last week, as many countries continue to close their borders to refugees, Britain announced that it would accept more unaccompanied refugee minors from Syria and other conflict zones on top of the 20,000 it vowed to take by 2020. Unaccompanied minors were said to be about 27 percent of the million refugees who arrived in 2015, and now the force of over 900 Europol intelligence analysts and police liaison officers, have reported that the estimate of 10,000 of those 270,000 children who have simply vanished in Europe is on the conservative side.

Within the U.K., children who arrive as asylum seekers and then disappear has more than doubled within the last year. The Guardian has Brian Donald stating that both Germany, a popular destination for refugees and Hungary, a transit site to the former country have reports that large numbers of sexually exploited refugees.

“An entire [criminal] infrastructure has developed over the past 18 months around exploiting the migrant flow. There are prisons in Germany and Hungary where the vast majority of people arrested and placed there are in relation to criminal activity surrounding the migrant crisis.”

Donald went on to plead with communities that have migrant populations to try and aid the refugee children in their midst.

“These kids are in the community, if they’re being abused it’s in the community. They’re not being spirited away and held in the middle of forests, though I suspect some might be, they’re in the community – they’re visible. As a population we need to be alert to this.”

[Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images]