At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe, according to the EU’s criminal intelligence agency. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates.
In the first attempt by law enforcement agencies to quantify one of the most worrying aspects of the migrant crisis, Europol’s chief of staff told the Observer that thousands of vulnerable minors had vanished after registering with state authorities.
Brian Donald said 5,000 children had disappeared in Italy alone, while another 1,000 were unaccounted for in Sweden. He warned that a sophisticated pan-European “criminal infrastructure” was now targeting refugees. “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.”
Age groups have not been revealed, though.
The plight of unaccompanied child refugees has emerged as one of the most pressing issues in the migrant crisis.
According to Save the Children, an estimated 26,000 unaccompanied children entered Europe last year.
Europol, which has a 900-strong force of intelligence analysts and police liaison officers, believes 27% of the million arrivals in Europe last year were minors.
“Whether they are registered or not, we’re talking about 270,000 children. Not all of those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be.”
In October, officials in Trelleborg, southern Sweden, revealed that some 1,000 unaccompanied refugee children who had arrived in the port town over the previous month had gone missing. On Tuesday a separate report, again from Sweden, warned that many unaccompanied refugees vanished and that there was “very little information about what happens after the disappearance.”
Mariyana Berket, of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said:
“Unaccompanied minors from regions of conflict are by far the most vulnerable population; those without parental care that have either been sent by their families to get into Europe first and then get the family over, or have fled with other family members.”
The Europol had received evidence some unaccompanied child refugees in Europe had been sexually exploited. In Germany and Hungary, the former a popular destination country for refugees and migrants, with the latter an important transit state, large numbers of criminals had been caught exploiting migrants. “An entire [criminal] infrastructure has developed over the past 18 months around exploiting the migrant flow,” Brian Donald from Europol said.
The police agency has also documented a disturbing crossover between organized gangs helping to smuggle refugees into the EU and human-trafficking gangs exploiting them for sex work and slavery.
While the numbers 10,000 – 270,000 given and/or estimated by the above mentioned sources have very large discrepancy, none should doubt that:
- no agency has exact numbers of missing child refugees
- child refugees, especially the unaccompanied ones, can very easily exploited for whatever purpose (slavery, sex work, illegal labor, or even organ trafficking)
A couple of weeks ago, I read on an international media outlet, the story of a teenager boy, 16 years old, who left Syria for Europe, alone. It was a horror story that no European mother sitting on her comfort sofa would dare expose her teenager child. After unbelievable hardship the boy had managed to reach Berlin.
PS there have been quite some reports of hidden child labor with Syrian refugees children working in factories in Turkey – whether in fashion companies or in fake life jackets sector. But Turkey is not in the EU therefore these children are probably not included in the Europol data. And the same is valid for the refugee children drowned in the Aegean Sea. They have never been registered as “arrivals in Europe” therefore they have never gone missing in Europe…