Officials fear that human traffickers may have snatched up many of the unaccompanied kids who have escaped hot spots in Middle East, Africa
Europe was overwhelmed in 2015 with refugees from trouble spots around the Middle East and Africa. Now there is concern that many of the children who came in the waves of migrants from places like Syria and Sudan may have slipped into the clutches of human traffickers.
The New York Times on Wednesday paints the grim picture:
Authorities dealing with Europe’s migrant crisis have lost track of about 10,000 unaccompanied children amid fears that organized crime gangs are beginning to exploit the vulnerable youngsters, a senior official at the European Union’s police agency said Monday.
And that, said Europol Chief of Staff Brian Donald, is a conservative estimate.
“They’re lost in the system,” he said. “I think our concern is that we know that there are people out there who will exploit minors. We know there are people who will take them and use them for their own purposes.”
UPDATE: The Times, on Thursday, reported that NATO will deploy ships to the Aegean Sea in an attempt to stop smugglers moving migrants from Turkey to Greece.
In Sweden, Amir Hashemi-Nik of the Stockholm County Administration said some of those who disappear are believed to be in the grip of trafficking rings and end up in prostitution, begging or other criminal activities. Some disappear simply because they don’t like the place where they have been assigned and decide to leave, and others go when they approach their 18th birthday because they are worried it will be harder to get asylum.
Many of the young people who have migrated to Europe without their parents or older relatives are on a trek to reunite with relatives in northern Europe, said a spokeswoman for the United Nations’ refugees agency, Carlotta Sami. The UNHCR office in Rome reports that of the 150,000 migrants and refugees rescued at sea and brought to Italy in 2015, accompanied minors accounted for 12,360. Save the Children Italy spokesman Michele Prosperi said that often the children look at traffickers not as a threat but as people who are trying to help them reach their destination.
The Guardian quoted Mariyana Berket, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as saying that some minors from regions of conflict have been “sent by their families to get into Europe first and then get the family over.”
On Thursday, the German government agreed to permit refugees who had entered the country as unaccompanied minors to bring over their families, in cases of particular hardship.
Donald warned the public to be vigilant, stating that most child refugees who had gone missing would be hiding in plain sight. “These kids are in the community; if they’re being abused, it’s in the community,” he said.