UNICEF: Unaccompanied minors increasing among refugees
Among the asylum-seekers traveling from Africa to Italy by sea there have been 7 009 unaccompanied minors so far this year. That is double the number of children who traveled alone last year.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced the news on 14 June, warning that these children face exceptional risks that include abuse, violence and death. As of 5 June a total of 2 809 refugees have perished at sea this year; the total number of refugee deaths at sea in 2015 was 3 770.
Unaccompanied minors are at the mercy of their smugglers who, according to UNICEF, frequently want the children to perform various services in advance of and during the journey. "If you try to flee the smugglers, they will shoot you and you will die. If you refuse to do the work, they beat you. It was like the slave trade," the UNICEF report quotes 16-year-old Aimamoa as saying, a boy who had to work with his brother in Libya on a farm for two months to make money for the smugglers.
"Once I took a break for five minutes and a man beat me with a stick. When the work day was over they would lock us up," the boy said.
Italian social workers report that both boys and girls are being sexually abused under these conditions. In Libya they are being forced into prostitution and some of the female unaccompanied minors arriving in Italy are pregnant as a result of this abuse.
Precise data do not exist about refugee abuses, deaths, or disappearances. "This is a desperate but quiet situation - these children are invisible, nobody knows about them. Thousands of children are being exposed on a daily basis to danger, and hundreds of thousands more are prepared to risk everything. It is urgently necessary to protect these children from all forms of abuse and violence," said Marie-Pierre Poirier, the UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe.
UNICEF is concerned that this summer the number of minors heading to Europe by sea will grow. In Libya more than 230 000 refugees are waiting to travel to Europe, including tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors.
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