Nearly 6,000 refugee children and minors were reported missing in Germany last year, according to latest figures from the country’s interior ministry.
The high number confirms that the plight of unaccompanied child refugees is rapidly becoming one of the most urgent issues of the on-going migrant crisis, as concerns grow that traffickers and criminals are exploiting the crisis to prey on vulnerable young people.
Europol – the EU’s law enforcement agency – has previously estimated that at least 10,000 refugee children went missing on the continent over the last year. “This does not mean that something happened to all of them,” a Europol spokesperson told reporters at the time. “A portion of the children could in fact be staying with relatives. But it does mean that these children are potentially at risk.”
According to the Local, an answer from the interior ministry to the German Parliament revealed that last year 5,835 unaccompanied teens and children were reported missing. Of those, 555 were younger than 14-years-old.
"The missing, unaccompanied, underage refugee children came mainly from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Morocco and Algeria," stated the Interior Ministry. But the ministry did not elaborate on a reason for why they were missing.
"This handling of the most vulnerable people looking for protection shows cold-heartedness with family reunification being severely curtailed," Luise Amtsberg, a Green Party politician in the German Parliament, told the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.
Eurpol’s chief of staff Brian Donald said to the Observer last month that 5,000 children had disappeared in Italy alone. He added: “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.”
Mariyana Berket, of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said to the newspaper: “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.”
A report in the Independent on Sunday earlier this year added that human smugglers had made a record profit last year of between £2bn-£4bn by exploiting the misery of refugees. It is a criminal network stretching from sub-Saharan Africa to Scandinavia, with tens of thousands of people involved in the trade.
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