Children make up at least one in five of the 870 000 refugees and migrants who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea so far in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre and UNICEF.
The share is greatest along the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece and through the Western Balkans, where children make up over one quarter of arrivals. About 10 per cent of arrivals to Italy are children, with nearly three quarters unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, the two organisations said on December 1.
Children are among the most vulnerable of the migrants and refugees travelling to Europe, the statement said. More than one third of all deaths in the Aegean Sea this year have been of children, many of them infants.
In October, more than 90 children died on their way to Greece, and in the past week, nine of the 12 deaths on this crossing have been of children. Along the journey, children are also more at risk of illness and injury, as well as exploitation, separation from family, kidnapping and trafficking.
Between January and September 2015, children represented nearly a third of all asylum claimants in the EU, and numbers of applications had surpassed those for the entire year of 2014. About 49 per cent of these are children from the conflict-affected countries of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The high number of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) arriving in Europe is also of concern, the statement said. From January to October 2015, more than 23 000 unaccompanied and separated children had sought asylum in Sweden – the top destination for UASC in Europe – more than did in the entire EU last year. The majority are adolescent males, although Italy has also seen a rise in the number of unaccompanied and trafficked Nigerian girls arriving.
UNICEF and IOM called on states and humanitarian actors to safeguard children and families making dangerous journeys to Europe, and to ensure adequate support is available in destination countries.
(Photo: Child migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos. © IOM/Amanda Nero 2015)