As the deadly conflict in Syria continues, influxes of refugees advance their way across the globe in search of safety. Over 1 million of these refugees from Syria and other conflict-ridden countries have arrived in Europe over the past year. Europol estimates that 27% of these 1 million arriving refugees are minors. There is great concern amongst the international community surrounding the future of these minors and particularly those arriving on European soil unaccompanied.
Save the Children has reported that 26,000 unaccompanied minors have entered Europe in the last year. Unaccompanied minors face a dramatically increased risk to the dangers of trafficking and exploitation. Europol has released statistics revealing that over 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have gone missing since arriving and registering in Europe within the past 18-24 months. There is no concrete evidence to support the possibility that all or a majority of these missing children have become victims of criminal exploitation. In fact, it is conceivable that a portion of the children could have been relocated to other family members. Nevertheless, these children remain unaccounted for at a time when Europol has recognized the existence of an established criminal infrastructure designed to exploit the refugee influxes.
Mariyana Berket, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has described that: “Unaccompanied minors from regions of conflict are by far the most vulnerable population.” These refugee children are vulnerable to smuggling groups that move refugees into the European Union as well as criminal organizations involved in refugee trafficking for sex and slavery purposes. Europol has already gathered evidence documenting the involvement of unaccompanied refugee minors in instances of sexual exploitation. Local authorities in conjunction with Europol have noted a trend in which previously documented criminals associated with human trafficking in the Europol database have been flagged recently in cases involving refugees and refugee smuggling. Particularly, in Germany and Hungary, popular destinations for refugees, prison populations have shifted to reflect a majority dominated by smugglers and traffickers involved in refugee crime.
Unfortunately, unaccompanied minors characteristically travel undetected within the migratory flows. For fear of deportation, these children have managed to limit visibility around authority while traveling. This makes it even more difficult for governments and officials to regulate and document the number of unaccompanied minors within EU states.
Europol has continued to stress that these vanished children, especially those that have been exploited, are visible and active within communities across Europe. Although there is a possibility that these minors are hidden away in rural areas, it is more likely that they are being exploited in communities surrounded by people like you and I. As the number of missing children continues to rise, Europol is bombarded with the immense task of not only finding these children but also identifying the groups involved in trafficking and exploitation. The organization has sought involvement from local communities by suggesting that people remain vigilant for signs of these visible children. Vigilance is a means to help not only the children but also the communities find safety.
Amidst a constant flow of global reports of violence, conflict, and radicalism, our sensitivity becomes hardened and the gravity of these events becomes a distant thought. Yet, it is important to remember the lives of the children forever changed by these greater global crises. By exercising the same vigilance advised by Europol, we, as global citizens, can take better care of one another and revisit the concept of humanity. Greater vigilance in regards to this issue can increase visibility for unaccompanied refugee children; increase recognition for the hardships they face and ultimately create a safer world for all humankind. It must be a commitment on the part of humanity to establish this type of vigilance with the hope of protecting and cultivating the youth that will one day be our future.