Eleven children die every week trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to new UN figures

A child rescued from a dinghy off the Libyan coast receives peers aboard the Open Arms aid boat, from Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms

This year around 11,600 children have made the dangerous crossing – Olmo Calvo/AP

On average, 11 children drown every week trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to new data from the United Nations.

The findings lay bare the tragic scale of Europe’s growing refugee crisis, which last month left around 100 children dead after a fishing boat sank off southern Greece.

This year, around 11,600 children have made the dangerous crossing and around 289 have died or gone missing, according to UNICEF, the UN’s children’s arm.

Since 2018, 1,500 children have died or gone missing, the agency added.

Organized smuggling gangs charge thousands of pounds for the crossing, forcing hundreds of migrants onto dilapidated and dangerous boats, often before removing the engines and letting the ships drift.

Lisa Ward, an NHS paramedic who has worked on lifeboats in the Mediterranean, has witnessed the consequences of this exploitation firsthand.

“There are many, many babies and children under the age of three or four,” she said. “During a rescue, three drowned toddlers were brought to me within half an hour. I managed to get a breath but couldn’t hold it. They all died. There were probably more [in the water]. Mothers were looking for their children.

Migrants prepare to board the Ocean Viking vessel sailing in international waters off Libya in the Mediterranean Sea

Hundreds of migrants are often forced to board dilapidated and dangerous boats – VINCENZO CIRCOSTA/AFP via Getty Images

Many shipwrecks on the crossing of the central Mediterranean Sea leave no survivors or go unrecorded, making the actual number of child victims impossible to verify and likely much higher.

The majority of the children leave from Libya and Tunisia, having already traveled from countries in Africa and the Middle East.

“Some children bore marks of torture; electrical burns,” Ms Ward said. “Some are said to have urine burns, where people had urinated on the boat and children had been sitting there for days.

“During a rescue, the boat tilted and everyone went into the water. Most of these people can’t swim. The adult men were removing the life jackets from the children.

“Tackling trafficking and smuggling networks”

The UN has said that a large proportion of children crossing the Mediterranean do so alone.

In the first three months of 2023, some 3,300 children – 71% of all children arriving in Europe through this route – were registered as unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

Girls traveling alone are particularly vulnerable and “susceptible” to violence, Unicef ​​has said.

“Cases of systematic rape are well known and well documented. It is therefore not with a light heart that we say these girls face extreme risks before, during and after their journey,” Verena Knaus, global migration manager at Unicef, told The Telegraph.

“In other cases, we come across girls traveling alone who have paid the price to cross a border with their bodies and are now carrying an unwanted child. We hear about this from smugglers, border guards and even search and rescue people.

Judith Sunderland, acting deputy director for Europe at Human Rights Watch, said “no one deserves to drown at sea, but the idea of ​​children – so many children – going under the waves is heartbreaking.”

She said: “Each of us should think beyond the statistics to imagine the children in our own lives facing this kind of death.”

“Tackling trafficking and smuggling networks is important for the real harm they cause to children and adults, but the best way to minimize dangerous migration journeys is to create safer and legal channels,” she added.

Protect yourself and your family by learning about Global health security.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then get a year for just $9 with our exclusive US offer.

Leave a Comment