5 February 2016

This week Europol released alarming figures concerning the number of missing unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Europol Chief of Staff Brian Donald told The Observer that since the start of the refugee crisis at least 5,000 unaccompanied children have already disappeared in Italy while over 1,000 went missing in Sweden. These children have entered Europe and subsequently disappeared without trace.

Europol believes that 27% of the million refugees who arrived in Europe last year are children. The number of missing children in Europe doubled in the past two years. The same figures apply to the UK. This steep increase raises fears that groups of human traffickers could be involved. Europol has proof that some unaccompanied children have been victims of sexual exploitation. In Germany and Hungary the authorities have already arrested many criminals involved in this illegal activity. It is likely that many criminal organizations previously involved in human trafficking have now adapted their activities towards the more lucrative business of migrant exploitation.

“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” the Europol chief of staff said.

The issue of unaccompanied children is becoming increasingly of concern. The UK has been discussing the details of a £ 10 million programme to take in some of the unaccompanied children already in Europe, especially if they have relatives or pre-existing connections with the country.

Some countries, such as Germany, are discussing draft-laws that would delay family reunion up to two years. This would result in an even more precarious future for children waiting to reunite with their families, placing them at heightened risk as the current European protection system does not guarantee proper monitoring to all vulnerable children.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 5 February 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.