The Hague: Yesterday, the EU police agency Europol said, more than 10,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children have disappeared in Europe, fearing many have been whisked into sex trafficking rings or the slave trade. Europol’s press office confirmed to Al Jazeera the figures published in British newspaper The Observer. The number relates to the last 18-24 months.
The agency’s chief of staff Brian Donald said the vulnerable children had disappeared from the system after registering with state authorities following their arrival in Europe. “It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children,” Donald told The Observer, adding that 5,000 had disappeared in Italy alone.
“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.”Donald said there was evidence of a “criminal infrastructure” established since mid-2014 to exploit the refugee flow. The Observer reported that Europol found evidence of links between smuggling rings bringing people into the EU and human trafficking gangs exploiting migrants for sex and slavery. Donald added, “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”.
Over one million migrants and refugees, many fleeing the Syria conflict, crossed into Europe last year. “Whether they are registered or not, we’re talking about 270,000 children,” Donald told the paper. “Not all of those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be,” he said, adding that the 10,000 is likely to be a conservative estimate. He said many of the children are “visible”, and not “spirited away and held in the middle of forests”.