The European Union’s police agency — Europol — yesterday said over 10,000 child migrants have gone missing after registering with state authorities, and fears gangs may be exploiting many for sex work and slavery.
According to a Europol spokesman the vulnerable child migrants have gone missing in several European Union countries, reports The Observer. Suggesting 10,000 is likely to be a conservative estimate of the actual number missing, in Italy alone 5,000 have disappeared, a further 1,000 were unaccounted for in one month in southern Sweden, and in the UK the number of children who disappear soon after registering for asylum has doubled over the past year.
Europol chief of staff Brian Donald told the newspaper:
“It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children. 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.”
Analysts have suggested that 27 per cent of an estimated million arrivals in Europe last year were minors. Mr. Donald added:
“Whether they are registered or not, we’re talking about 270,000 children. Not all of those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be.”
Mr. Donald also spoke of a pan-European “criminal infrastructure” targeting migrants, citing evidence seen by Europol that some unaccompanied child migrants had been sexually exploited.
In both Germany and Hungary — the former a destination for migrants, the latter predominantly a transit state — large numbers of criminals had been caught targeting migrants. Mr. Donald explained:
“An entire [criminal] infrastructure has developed over the past 18 months around exploiting the migrant flow. 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.”
Europol has also uncovered a trend of longstanding human smuggling operations, which were not historically linked to coercion and human rights abuses, morphing into trafficking operations and involving themselves in the exploitation of migrants for sex work and slavery.
Mr. Donald called on everyone to help police the exploitation of child migrants by looking out for vulnerable minors:
“These kids are in the community, if they’re being abused it’s in the community. They’re not being spirited away and held in the middle of forests, though I suspect some might be, they’re in the community — they’re visible. As a population we need to be alert to this.”