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Europol: More than 10,000 Refugee Children Missing in Europe

Unaccompanied children undertaking the dangerously harrowing journey from the war-torn Middle East to Europe run a particularly high risk of falling victim to human traffickers. (Photo: Oxfam International/Creative Commons)

Unaccompanied children undertaking the dangerously harrowing journey from the war-torn Middle East to Europe run a particularly high risk of falling victim to human traffickers. (Photo: Oxfam International/Creative Commons)

Europol, the European Union police agency, said on Sunday that more than 10,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children have disappeared since arriving in Europe, raising fears they may have been trafficked by criminal organizations.

The Observer reports thousands of children have disappeared after registering with state authorities throughout Europe. Europol Chief of Staff Brian Donald said 5,000 minors had disappeared in Italy alone, while at least another 1,000 were unaccounted for in Sweden. Last year, officials in the port city of Trelleborg, Sweden said 1,000 children had gone missing there and that “very little information about what happens after the disappearance” was known.

Donald warned that a sophisticated international “criminal infrastructure” is targeting vulnerable migrant youth.

“It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children,” Donald told the Observer. “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.”

Europol also reported that human traffickers who provide smuggling services to economic migrants are also exploiting refugees for sexual and other forms of slavery.

“The ones who have been active in human smuggling are now appearing in our files in relation to migrant smuggling,” said Donald.

Europol Director Rob Wainwright recently said that human smugglers made a record profit last year of between $3-$6 billion.

“Last year has been seismic in the development of the people-smuggling trade in Europe in particular, and we are now talking about its being a multibillion-dollar industry in the way it hasn’t before, and the Champion’s League of criminal sectors in Europe alongside drugs,” Wainwright told the Independent.

Laura Pappa, president of the Greek charity Meta-Action, a group accompanying children who travel without relatives, told Al Jazeera that such minors “face a destiny that is worse than that of the rest of migrants waiting to be relocated” and that predatory criminals sometimes take advantage of the situation.

“There are some people that present themselves as uncles and take the children. It’s not easy in this mess to cross check the identity of the ‘uncle,'” said Pappa.

According to the charity group Save the Children, around 26,000 unaccompanied child migrants arrived in Europe from war-torn and economically destitute nations like Syria and Iraq.

“Thousands of child refugees have arrived in Europe alone without any parents or relatives to look after them. Exhausted and terrified, many are in danger of being abused by criminals,” the charity said on its website.

Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the Geneva-based International Office on Migration (IOM), called the news that 10,000 migrant children have gone missing “shocking but not surprising.”

“Let’s hope now the EU puts the resources into finding these children, helping them and reuniting these children with their families,” Doyle told the BBC.

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