Nearly 6,000 unaccompanied child and teenage refugees disappeared in Germany last year, officials said on Monday.
Interior ministry spokesman Johannes Dimroth confirmed local media reports that the government recently informed parliament about the disappearance of 5,835 refugee children and teenagers.
"I have no doubt that the authorities in federal states will take each case very seriously and keep track of relevant information," Dimroth told a news conference in Berlin.
According to a government reply to a parliamentary question, among the 5,835 refugee children and teenagers registered as missing last year, 555 were under the age of 14.
The majority were from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Morocco and Algeria.
The Interior Ministry spokesman said the actual number of the disappeared children could be lower than the current statistics. The authorities believe that some of them have been taken by their relatives in Germany or elsewhere in Europe, but in many cases these are not reported to officials and not reflected in statistics.
Federal Ministry for Family Affairs spokeswoman Verena Herb said the government is very sensitive about the problem and has recently taken new legal and practical measures to address the problem.
Herb said new reception centers will be opened specially for unaccompanied children and teenagers, and federal states will improve the exchange of information as well as improving the registration system.
“We cannot rule out that these children and teenagers might fall into the hands of criminals,” she said, and underlined that the federal ministry is currently in talks with German states to improve cooperation.
The EU’s largest economy took in a record 1.1 million refugees last year; the majority were Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.
Most of the refugees entered Germany through the southern state of Bavaria and were later distributed to the other 15 states. However, due to the big influx, many could not be properly registered.
In February, European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, said 10,000 refugee children “have disappeared after arriving in Europe."