Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, warns that 10,000 refugee children “have disappeared after arriving in Europe” in comments made to the Observer.
“The concern is that they are vulnerable due to their young age and may be especially vulnerable to different forms of exploitation e.g. petty theft, begging and sexual exploitation,” says Europol spokesman, Alexandru Niculae, in a written statement to TRT World.
Save the Children claims that 26,000 minors travelled to Europe alone. Imad Aoun, a spokesman from the organisation, couldn’t verify Europol’s numbers. He says that there are “several scenarios” where children start the journey alone, get separated along the way, or simply don’t register. “It’s really hard to say exactly what is happening to these kids,” says Aoun.
According to UNICEF spokeswoman, Sarah Crowe, it’s usually 14-17 year old boys who travel through Greece, Macedonia and the former Yugoslavia, failing to register themselves as unaccompanied minors until they reach their country of destination, often Germany or Sweden. “They tend to slip out of the system,” she says, while also maintaining that it is hard for UNICEF to verify Europol’s statistic.
Europol does state that not all unaccounted minors will be exploited by criminal gangs, but individuals “who have been active in human trafficking are now appearing in the files in relation to migrant smuggling,” says Niculae.
As the Syrian civil war reaches its fifth year, and hopes of a negotiated cease-fire dimming by the day, the numbers of refugees bound for Europe continues to climb.
“We’ve seen an extraordinary uptick that started from the middle of last year in the proportion of children and women,” says Crowe. She cites that the numbers of refugee children crept upward from one in ten refugees to about 36 to 38 percent.
“It’s really a warning, an appeal, to all governments who are dealing with these large numbers of children and families on the move.”
Author: Sara Nasser