Refugee children face exploitation en route to Europe

Unaccompanied children who account for a large percentage of migrants and refugees face appalling perils such as rape, beatings, and forced child labour on their journey to Europe, according to a report by UNICEF.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Rescuers take care of a child during a rescue operation at sea of migrants and refugees with the Aquarius, a former North Atlantic fisheries protection ship on May 24, in the Mediterranean sea in front of the Libyan coast.

Minors make up an increasing percentage of refugees and migrants, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a latest report entitled “Danger Every Step of the Way.”

Children fleeing war and poverty face the risk of beatings, rape, and forced labor in conjunction with the possibility of drowning in the Mediterranean, on their journey to Europe, it said on Tuesday.

According to the report, 9 out of 10 refugee children arriving in Europe this year through Italy are unaccompanied, spurring the organisation to call attention to the plight of minors and the risks of exploitation and death they face.

There was “strong evidence that criminal human trafficking networks were targeting the most vulnerable, in particular women and children,” UNICEF said. 

"Italian social workers claim that both boys and girls are sexually assaulted and forced into prostitution while in Libya, and that some of the girls were pregnant when they arrived in Italy, having been raped," it said.

UNICEF said many children had fallen between the cracks of overburdened asylum systems and that they should be prioritized.

"All too often children are held behind bars - in detention facilities or in police custody - because of a lack of space in child protection centers and limited capacity for identifying alternative solutions," it said.

Children play as refugees and migrants wait to take part in a pre-registration process that gives them access to the asylum procedure, at the premises of the disused Hellenikon airport, in Athens, Greece, June 13, 2016. 

On arrival to Europe, migrants and refugees often take shelter in sports halls, former military barracks or other temporary shelters, frequently without access to psychological support and schooling, it said.

There have been 45 arson attacks on refugee shelters in Germany during the first half of this year, highlighting the xenophobic attacks and stigmatization migrants face.

Refugees wait for registration process prior the asylum procedure at the Helliniko refugee camp at the former olympic complex situated at the old Athens airport on June 13, 2016.

Call to identify victims

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) has said that more than 55,000 refugees have died in the past 20 years in their attempt to cross to other countries.

In a report entitled "Fatal Journeys" released on Tuesday, IOM said that many families are not aware of their relatives’ fate.

The agency called on authorities dealing with refugees in different countries to identify the missing and inform the families.

A record 5,400 migrants are estimated to have died in 2015 trying to cross borders, and a further 3,100 have perished in the first five months of this year, the IOM said. 

Migrants are seen on a capsizing boat before a rescue operation by Italian navy ships "Bettica" and "Bergamini" off the coast of Libya in this handout picture released by the Italian Marina Militare on May 25, 2016.

As the largest number of refugees are trying to cross to Europe through the sea, 3,770 of the year’s deaths occurred in the Mediterranean while others in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea and along the US-Mexico border, the report said.

"A second tragedy following the thousands of victims is that the majority, even among deaths that are known of, are never officially identified," IOM said.

"For each body that remains nameless...families are left wondering if their relative is alive or dead."

There is no common practice to gather information on refugee’s deaths between states or even between different jurisdictions in the same country, the report said.

"Above all, international and regional databases are needed, in which data that is collected nationally can be stored securely and accessed transnationally," it said.


TRTWorld and agencies