BERLIN, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Nearly 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children and teens in Germany have been reported missing, German officials said.
The German Federal Criminal Police Office said migrant children 4,749 have been reported missing as of Jan. 1. Six months ago the reported number in Germany was 1,637. The agency said children are sometimes reported missing in several cities, distorting the figures, but it acknowledged some of those unaccounted for are likely crime victims.
Heinz Hilgers of the non-governmental German Child Protection Agency referred to those missing as "easy targets" who could be exploited by criminals. Niels Espenhorst of the humanitarian group German Association for Unaccompanied Underage Refugees said the German refugee registration process was to blame, noting children improperly registered when they first arrive are prone to fall through the cracks of the entry system.
The police report comes after the European Union criminal intelligence agency Europol said at least 10,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in Europe as refugees in the past 24 months are missing. Brian Donald, Europol chief of staff, said 5,000 in Italy had disappeared, and another 1,000 in Sweden. While some could be staying with relatives, a Europol spokesman said, "It does mean these children are potentially at risk."
It is believed some may have been abducted by criminal gangs and sexually exploited, although a separate report in Sweden indicated there was "very little information about what happens after their disappearance."
"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," Donald told the British newspaper The Observer.
Europol also noted that longstanding criminal gangs involved in human trafficking are now crossing over into helping smuggle refugees into EU countries.