At least 10,000 refugee children have vanished after arriving in Europe with many being forced into sex work and slavery, officials believe.
Thousands of young migrants have been targeted by criminals and are now missing, according to the European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol.
The news emerged as charity Save the Children estimated that around 26,000 children were forced to travel into Europe alone last year.
Brain Donald, Europol’s chief of staff, told Mark Townsend at the Observer: ‘It is not unreasonable to say that we are looking at 10,000-plus children.
‘We just don’t know where they are, what they are doing and whom they are with.’
He said there was evidence some were being sexually exploited by gangs also linked to human trafficking, but stressed not all children would have been linked to criminal activity.
Mr Donald added that the abuse was not happening ‘in the middle of forests’ but in towns and built-up areas.
He said: ‘These kids are in the community, if they’re being abused it’s in the community.’
UNICEF told MailOnline that there are as many as 90,000 unaccompanied minors in Germany and Sweden alone, and more than one in three migrants in Europe are children.