UNICEF said Friday that over this week, 125 children including 114 unaccompanied ones were rescued at sea, off the coast of Libya.
The UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Ted Chaiban, and UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for the Refugee Migrant Response in Europe, Afshan Khan, said in a statement that 114 unaccompanied children were rescued at sea off the coast of Libya, adding that more than 350 people perish or go missing in the Mediterranean since the year began.
“The Central Mediterranean continues to be one of the deadliest and most dangerous migration routes in the world. At least 350 people, including children and women, have drowned or gone missing in the Central Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe since the beginning of the year, including 130 just last week.” UNICEF said.
It added that the majority of those rescued are sent to overcrowded detention centres in Libya under extremely difficult conditions and with no or limited access to water and health services, saying that nearly 1,100 children are in these centers.
“Libya has 51,828 migrant children and an estimated 14,572 refugee children; most are unable to access services and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse within the country. Those in detention are cut off from clean water, electricity, education, health care and adequate sanitation facilities. Violence and exploitation are rampant.” UNICEF reiterated.
UNICEF indicated that despite these dangers, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, refugee and migrant children continue to risk their lives in search of safety and better life.
“Attempts to cross this sea route are likely to increase in the summer months ahead. We call on the Libyan Authorities to release all children and end immigration detention.The detention of children in migration contexts is never in the best interest of children. We call on authorities in Europe on the Central Mediterranean to support and receive migrants and refugees coming to their shores and to strengthen search and rescue mechanisms.” The statement reads.
UNICEF also said that it is committed, with its partners, to support all governments across the Central Mediterranean to find safer alternatives to sea crossing, develop and implement child sensitive arrival procedure, reception and care facilities and long-term solutions for children attempting to cross the sea.
“As of 31 March, a total of 4,005 migrants and refugees have been registered as rescued/intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya to detention centres. So far this year, more than 8,600 migrants have arrived in European ports via the Central Mediterranean, one in five are children.” UNICEF noted.