NEW measures are needed after a rise in missing refugee children sparked fears of youngsters being trafficked in the county.

The number of reports of unaccompanied asylum seeking children going missing has increased by 42 per cent this year.

Oxfordshire County Council has asked Thames Valley Police to appoint a senior officer to tackle the problem.

Latest figures revealed that 16 per cent of all missing children reports in Oxfordshire over the six months from January to June related to just 14 refugee children.

The council's director of children's services, Lucy Butler, said the increase posed a significant risk and the council has taken steps to make sure its 'UASCS at Risk Protocol' was fit for purpose.

Chief executive of the Oxford-based charity Refugee Resource, Kate Hood, said it was vital refugee children were given the right support in school and in society.

She said: "Many of the young people we work with are on their own in, having come from Syria, Afghanistan or Eritrea.

"They are vulnerable and sometimes frightened and quite traumatised - they have had difficult experiences in their lives and grown up in areas of conflict.

The charity has been working with Oxford Spires Academy - which has a high number of asylum seeking children - to provide specialist counselling and emotional support as well as English language lessons and social activities, such as football.

She said: "It's really important all the staff and people who come into contact with these young people understand the issues they may be going through."

She added that although many may 'go walkabouts' due to being worried or scared they were also in danger.

She said: "The less pleasant elements of society are always going to prey on young people who are vulnerable and impressionable, which is all the more reason why they should be given the support they need."

The council's Social and Health Care Asylum Seeker Service is responsible for providing housing and support to young asylum seekers, under the age of 18, who are in this country without their family.

It has pledged to take in 15 additional children this year as well as those who are spontaneously appear in the county - often after being discovered at motorway service stations.

The missing children report also revealed authorities have cracked down on young people being exploited through drug running.

The county council said this was down to the city police's recently-launched Operation Buffer.

More children went missing in the first six months of 2017 compared to the previous six months but there were fewer cases of youngsters going missing on multiple occasions.