The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), lamented that nearly 11 children perish or go missing every week trying to cross the perilous migratory maritime route of the central Mediterranean, which connects North Africa to Europe .
In other words, at least 289 children are believed to have died or disappeared this year trying to find safety, peace and opportunities for the future. Since 2018, nearly 1,500 children have died or gone missing trying to navigate the Central Mediterranean migratory sea route, according to UNICEF estimates.
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell was quoted in a statement as saying that “far too many children perish or disappear while embarking on boats on the coasts of the Mediterranean in the hope of getting to safety, reuniting with their families and securing a better future”.
“This clearly shows that we need to redouble our efforts to enable children to obtain asylum in a safe and legal manner, while strengthening rescue efforts at sea,” did she say.
So far, some 11,600 children have reportedly made the dangerous crossing. The majority of them were alone or separated from their parents.
During the first quarter of 2023, 3,300 children – or 71% of all children arriving in Europe by this route – were declared unaccompanied or separated from their parents, or their legal representatives, which exposes them to an increased risk. of violence, exploitation and abuse. Girls who travel alone are particularly susceptible to violence before, during and after their journey.
According to Verena Knaus, UNICEF Migration and Displacement Officer, “The number of children who have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe has doubled in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year. Driven by conflict and climate change, more and more children are putting their lives at risk by making the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe”.
Furthermore, the UN Agency for Migration (IOM) notes that one in five of the 8,274 people who died or disappeared on the road was a child.
However, the number of child deaths is almost impossible to verify, and probably much higher, knowing that many shipwrecks on the migratory route of the central Mediterranean leave no survivors and go unnoticed.
In recent months, children and babies have been dying on this route, as well as on other migration routes in the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic route from West Africa. , especially off Greece and the Canary Islands in Spain, where tragic shipwrecks have recently taken place.
On a separate note, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) recorded more than 90,000 arrivals via the Mediterranean Sea to Europe between January 2023 and July 9, 2023. Most of these arrivals (77% ) took place via the Central Mediterranean migratory route. This route (which refers to the maritime route that connects North Africa, mainly Tunisia and Libya, to Italy) is among the most used and dangerous routes.
According to the UNHCR, children represent 16% of the 69,600 refugees and migrants who have taken the Central Mediterranean migration route since January 2023, which represents almost 11,600 children. This is an average of 428 children per week.
Silence of the international community
This figure has doubled compared to the same period in 2022, despite the terrible dangers involved. Most are from Africa or the Middle East and have already made a perilous journey before embarking in Libya or Tunisia. “Hundreds of girls and boys are drowning in the inaction of the world”, lamented Knaus.
Faced with the dangers faced by children, UNICEF calls on countries of origin and transit to tackle conflict and climate risks, by expanding social protection coverage and giving them more opportunities to learn and to earn their living. The agency also calls on the European Union to take these points into account in its Pact on Migration and Asylum, which is currently being negotiated.
For UNICEF, the international community cannot continue to ignore what is happening, “to remain silent as nearly 300 children – an entire plane full of children – die in the waters between Europe and Africa in just six months. And yet, in view of these figures and the silence that surrounds so many of these preventable deaths, it seems that the world is deliberately ignoring what is happening, regrets the head of UNICEF.