NICOSIA, Cyprus — Laws in some European countries that impede migrant children from reuniting with their families or force them to leave when they turn 18 create a "huge security risk" by potentially turning young people to crime and extremism, the chief of Europe's top human rights body said Friday.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said such laws compel many young migrants facing uncertain futures to flee, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation from human traffickers who could push them into crime or the illicit sex trade.
"This is causing a huge security risk for Europe," Jagland said during an interview with The Associated Press. "This is self-inflicted wound, because in the future we will probably see many of these people as criminals and maybe also terrorists."
Governments in some countries are under "huge pressure from right-wing extremist forces" to deal with an influx of migrants, Jagland said. But the Council of Europe is urging authorities to offer appropriate shelter and schooling to migrant children as a way to keep them from fleeing, he said.
Jagland, who is from Norway, said he suspects there are many more migrant children unaccounted for in Europe than the 10,000 that has been estimated.
'I've heard so many examples, including from my own country, that young people are simply running away because they fear that they'll be expelled when they become 18 years old," he said.
The European Union's statistical agency, Eurostat, said last week that more than 63,000 children traveling without adult supervision applied for asylum last year in the 28 EU nations plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Eurostat said more than half of the unaccompanied minors were Afghan and Syrian nationals and more than two-thirds were 16 and 17-year-old boys. Almost 6,300 were under age 14.
Nearly 60 percent of the applicants sought asylum in Germany.