A total of 8,991 unaccompanied refugee children and young people have been reported missing in Germany since the beginning of the year.
The figures released by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt) show that most of the missing children are aged between 14 and 17-years-old.
DW reported that the figures, which were requested by the German daily “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung,” showed the number of migrants no longer in contact with authorities was already higher than for the whole of last year. The figure has doubled from January, when 4,749 refugees were known to be missing.
Although most of those who disappeared are teenagers, 867 of them are under 13 years old, DW reported.
The authorities have however downplayed the role of criminal gangs in the children’s disappearance. The BKA said it had no concrete evidence that this was happening in large numbers.
“In many cases, it’s not like the children left without a plan. They wanted to visit their parents, relatives or friends in other German cities or even other European countries,” a BKA spokeswoman told the paper.
The increase in the number of missing refugee children could be partly explained by young people registering more than once with German authorities, for example after moving to a new area of the country, the police authority said.
Earlier this year the European police agency Europol estimated that at least 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children have gone missing after arriving in Europe.
The challenges involved in handling the integration of around a million asylum seekers who came to Germany last year are causing tension within the government.
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel last Sunday accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of underestimating the strain of integrating the asylum seekers.
He told broadcaster ZDF that rather than catchphrases – referring to Merkel’s repeated use of the slogan “We can do this!”- “We should be setting the right conditions so we can actually manage this”, DW reported.
Despite the criticism, Germany has been praised for its efforts to help migrant children integrate into the country.
Germany’s Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has confirmed that it is expecting far fewer asylum seekers this year compared to 2015.
“We are preparing for 250,000 to 300,000 refugees this year,” Frank-Juergen Weise, the head of the office, told “Bild am Sonntag” newspaper.