What do you call children washing ashore because their families simply wanted a decent life for them? While the entire world is in the midst of a public debate, whether naming them “refugees” or “migrants,” more than 2,500 of people trying to reach EU have perished this year.
Photos showing Palestinian and Syrian children washed ashore in Libya by a Syrian photographer, Khaled Barakeh, and recent photos of children lying dead on the shores of Turkey have been the most striking evidences of the tragedy so far.
Images of capsized boats carrying numerous refugees and photos of dead bodies piled up in a truck have taken the world media by storm, reminding us the essentials of life we all seem to take for granted. Apart from a long and dangerous journey on Mediterranean, the lucky ones managing to reach the land still encounter many problems. They can't find proper shelter, food, medication, and on top of it, they are not welcome to Europe.
For parents, getting on a crowded boat for a lengthy and perilous journey with their children is a really tough decision to make. However, when they are left with only two options; staying in the midst of a war, or taking a journey that may lead to a secure and better life, many don't hesitate to put their lives at risk.
Almost half of the refugees are fleeing the civil war in Syria, and the remaining from the conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea, according to the UN. The refugees especially want to reach Sweden, United Kingdom, France and Germany, believing a better life awaits them there. Nevertheless, every step of this journey is full of difficulties. While in Macedonia and Hungary they may be teargassed, and if they get to Germany or Denmark their shelters may well be torched.
Refugees seize upon any options to make it through the borders. Most of the time, they are manipulated by profit-seeking smugglers, who transport them in unsecured and overcrowded boats or trucks. Just last week, dozens of men, women and children were left to suffocate in a truck in Austria.
More than 300,000 refugees managed to survive this dangerous journey; more than 230,000 of them landing in Greece and a further 110,000 in Italy. However, many “survival boats” trying to reach EU countries through Greece and Italy capsized, failing to carry many people with high hopes, killing more than 2,500 in the Mediterranean waters.
In an April 2015 report, Save the Children warned number of children casualties may reach to 2,500 in Mediterranean this year.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, there are many unaccompanied children refugees fleeing their war-torn countries. The human rights group stated that in 2014, out of 6,100 refugee children that reached Greece, around 1,100 were registered as unaccompanied or traveling without family members.
Apart from escaping the war in Syria and Afghanistan, main reasons for them to take this journey at early ages are fleeing recruitment as soldiers and escaping child marriage.
According to Telegraph, after arriving in Italy in smugglers’ boats, more than 5,000 refugee children have disappeared without a trace in 2015. Many of them feared to encounter exploitation and prostitution.
HRW says number of children refugees are probably higher than estimated. Many children traveling alone claim to be 18 in order to avoid prolonged detention they face while authorities find proper shelters for them.
While the influx of refugees into Europe continues despite all the dangers and difficulties, the European leaders have so far failed to agree on the responsibility share as both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande called for a "fair distribution."
"The responsibility of EU states starts even before migrants [refugees] reach their border — it starts in the middle of the Mediterranean, where thousands of children have witnessed the death of their loved ones, including parents, relatives and friends," said Carolyn Miles, president of Save the Children.
UN human rights expert, Francois Crepeau, believes EU's efforts to push back refugees is vain. "Let's not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working," he said.
What he proposes to EU members is a massive resettlement program for all refugees. Tear gas, threats and deprivation of food, water and shelter will not solve any problem, but make these people suffer more while diplomacy keep dragging its feet.