More than 11,600 children crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Italy from North Africa without their parents or guardians from January to mid-September 2023, according to a new report from UNICEF.
The number represents an increase of 60% compared to the same period last year, when little over 7,000 unaccompanied children made the deadly journey.
The international organisation said that children who undertake the journey alone are often placed in overcrowded and shoddily constructed boats that are unsuitable for poor weather conditions.
“Some are placed in the hold of the ship, some on iron barges—particularly dangerous for navigation,” the report said. “The lack of regionwide, coordinated, and adequate search and rescue capacities and cooperation at sea on disembarkation compound the dangers children face when crossing.”
Given the grim data, Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe, called the Mediterranean Sea “a cemetery for children and their futures.”
She said that “the devastating toll on children seeking asylum and safety in Europe is a result of policy choices and a broken migration system,” calling for a Europe-wide system to respond to children and families seeking asylum.
UNICEF attributed the increase in migration to several factors in the migrants’ home countries, including war, violence, and poverty.
The report also pointed out that unattended children who go on such journeys are often exposed to a higher risk of exploitation, particularly those of sub-Saharan descent.
Tens of thousands of migrants make the perilous journeys between North African countries to Europe every year, in hopes of escaping violence or finding a better life on the other side, with stories of boats sinking or going missing being a regular occurrence.