Number of unaccompanied children arriving by sea to Italy doubles in 2016

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UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 (APP): The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Italy by boat more than doubled in 2016 from the previous year, an “alarming trend” that leaves thousands of young people highly vulnerable, according to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Around 25,800 unaccompanied children crossed the Mediterranean to reach Italy in 2016, UNICEF said, with the majority originating from Eritrea, Egypt, Gambia and Nigeria.
While most were teenaged boys, the agency said a growing number of girls were also making the perilous sea journey.
“These figures indicate an alarming trend of an increasing number of highly vulnerable children risking their lives to get to Europe,” said Lucio Melandri, UNICEF’s emergency manager.
“Current systems in place are failing to protect these children who find themselves alone in a totally unfamiliar environment. Because they are on the move, a coordinated European response is needed to keep them safe.”
Last year a record 181,000 boat migrants, mostly from Africa, reached Italy. The majority paid Libyan people traffickers to make the journey.
The Missing Migrants Project, set up by the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration, has recorded 11 migrants deaths in the Mediterranean since the start of the year, including four who died of hypothermia at Europe’s land borders with Turkey.
The EU all but halted a migrant influx into Greece through a deal last year with Turkey to hold back Syrian refugees. But doing the same in Italy’s case is more problematic because of the lack of effective state authority in Libya.
According to UNICEF, though most of the children were boys aged 15-17 years, younger children and girls were also among the arrivals.
In addition to protecting child refugees and migrants ‘particularly unaccompanied children’ from exploitation and violence, UNICEF urged stopping the detention of refugee or migrant children; keeping
families together; providing quality, learning, healthcare and other
related services to all refugee and migrant children; addressing underlying causes of large-scale movements; and combatting xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization.