Figures from the Federal Criminal Police Office seen by the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung (NOZ) show that 8,991 refugee children and teens were reported as missing as of July 1st.
That number is more than the total reported in 2015 and nearly double the 4,749 underage refugees reported at the beginning of the year.
Most of those missing were between the ages of 14 and 17 and the BKA told NOZ that in most cases, criminal activity was not suspected.
“The Federal Criminal Police Office does not have concrete information available that a portion of the missing underage refugees could have fallen into the hands of criminals,” the BKA told NOZ.
Instead, the BKA said that many of those who went missing may have left refugee accommodation centres with relatives or friends to go to other German cities or European countries. They often do not notify authorities when they are picked up by family members.
The BKA has previously also told The Local that the numbers of missing children could be distorted if kids are reported as missing in multiple places, or with slightly different personal information.
But NGOs like Missing Children Europe have warned that unaccompanied child refugees in particular are vulnerable to criminals.
“In many cases [unaccompanied refugee children] are also forced to leave because they are or have become victims of trafficking, including labour and sexual exploitation, forced begging and drug smuggling,” Missing Children Europe writes on their website.
The German Association for Unaccompanied Underage Refugees (BumF) wrote in a report earlier this year that they also assume many children and teens independently leave refugee centres to join relatives or to search for better living conditions elsewhere.
However, the report also states that it cannot be ruled out that some may be trafficked or exploited.
“There is evidence that unaccompanied minors are forced into prostitution or theft because, for example, they must pay back a debt to a people smuggler,” BumF explains.
“The extent of this is unknown. It is the responsibility of the German government to support children and youth in their rights, and to protect them from danger.”