Up to three quarters of children face abuse, exploitation and trafficking on Mediterranean migration routes, a joint report by the UN children’s agency Unicef and its migration agency, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), found.
While all migrants and refugees are at high risk, children and youths on the move are far more likely to experience exploitation than adults over 25, while children from sub-Saharan Africa were found to be most vulnerable.
The voyage from North Africa, primarily Libya, across the Central Mediterranean to Italy and the route between Turkey and Greece known as the Eastern Mediterranean route have become the two most common paths to Europe.
“If you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat you,” the report quoted Aimamo, a 16-year-old unaccompanied child from Gambia, as saying.
About 83% of children from sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach Europe through Libya were at risk of exploitation and trafficking compared to around 56% of those from elsewhere, with racism a significant contributing factor behind the discrepancy, the report found.
The global number of refugee and migrant children moving around alone has reached a record high, with at least 300 000 unaccompanied and separated children recorded in about 80 countries in 2015-2016, up from 66 000 in 2010-2011.
“The stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against,” Afshan Khan, Unicef’s regional director in Europe, said.