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Around 26,000 unaccompanied children entered Europe last year. Most of them are targeted by criminal gangs. Some have been sexually exploited, Europol informed.
The difficult situation of unaccompanied child refugees has become one of the most pressing issues in the migrant crisis.
According to Save the Children, around 26,000 unaccompanied children entered Europe last year. Europol, which has a 900-strong force of intelligence analysts and police liaison officers, believes 27% of the million arrivals in Europe last year were minors.
Europol chief of staff Brian Donald has confirmed the figures published in British newspaper, The Guardian. He said the children had disappeared from the system after registering with state authorities following their arrival in Europe.
“Whether they are registered or not, we are talking about 270,000 children. Not all of those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be.” said Donald.
“A SOPHISTICATED PAN-EUROPEAN CRIMINAL INFRASTRUCTURE”
Donald added that 5,000 children had disappeared in Italy alone, while another 1,000 were unaccounted for in Sweden, warning that “a sophisticated pan-European criminal infrastructure” is now targeting refugees.
“It’s not unreasonable to say that we are 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 do not know where they are, what they are doing or whom they are with.” The Europol chief affirmed.
Mariyana Berket, of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), agreed; “Unaccompanied minors from regions of conflict are by far the most vulnerable population; those without parental care that have either been sent by their families to get into Europe first and then get the family over, or have fled with other family members.”
HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND SEXUAL SLAVERY
Donald confirmed Europol had received evidence some unaccompanied child refugees in Europe had been sexually exploited, specially in Germany and Hungary, where a large numbers of criminals had been caught exploiting migrants.
“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.” He explained.
Criminal gangs known to be involved in human trafficking, whose identity had been logged in the agency’s Phoenix database, have now been caught exploiting refugees.
Europol will start conversations with organisations working on the Balkans route, which have requested a meeting with the law enforcement agency specifically to discuss children vanishing.
“Their concern is in relation to the number of unaccompanied minors. They are asking for help in identifying how these children are identified and then brought into the criminal infrastructure. They are dealing with this on a daily basis, and come to us because they see it as a big problem.” Donald said.
EUROPE´S APPROACH TO THE CRISIS DOES NOT HELP
Europe’s chaotic approach to the migration crisis led last week to calls for Greece to be removed from the open-borders Schengen zone, a development that a senior UN official sees as a catastrophic solution to the problem.
Writing in the Observer, the UN special representative on migration, Peter Sutherland, said “that idea is not only inhumane and a gross violation of basic European principles; it also would prove vastly more costly than the alternative – a truly common EU policy that quells the chaos of the past year.”
He also believes that “such a move would effectively transform it [Greece] into an open-air holding pen for countless thousands of asylum seekers.”