“If you try to run, they shoot you, if you stop working they beat you. It was just like the slave trade.”

Unicef UK calls on the UK Government to protect unaccompanied children making the perilous journey across Europe 

Photos and Video available here - http://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AMZIFFSNML 

June 14, 2016 – More than nine out of 10 refugee and migrant children arriving in Europe this year through Italy are unaccompanied, prompting Unicef to warn of the growing threats of abuse, exploitation and death facing them.

In a report, Danger Every Step of the Way, released today, Unicef says that 7,009 unaccompanied children made the crossing from North Africa to Italy in the first five months of the year, twice as many as last year. The report documents the appalling risks children take in their flight to escape conflict, despair and poverty.

A total of 2,809 deaths were recorded in the Mediterranean between January 1 and June 5, 2016, as compared with 3,770 for the whole of last year. The vast majority were on the Central Mediterranean route – and many were children. 

Unaccompanied children generally rely on human smugglers, often under a system of ‘pay as you go’, which opens them to exploitation.

“If you try to run they shoot you and you die. If you stop working, they beat you. It was just like the slave trade,” Aimamo, 16, said of the farm in Libya where he and his twin brother worked for two months to pay the smugglers. “Once I was just resting for five minutes, and a man beat me with a cane. After working, they lock you inside.”

Some are sexually abused and exploited. Italian social workers told Unicef that both girls and boys were 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. 

Many of these unaccompanied children are also making their way to Calais and the coastlines around Northern France, seeking a better life in the UK. 

Unicef UK, along with Citizens UK, has identified at least 157 unaccompanied children in Calais who should be living safely with their family in the UK, yet these children’s cases are moving far too slowly. Every day they wait is another day they are exposed to violence, sexual exploitation and forced labour and are in danger of falling into the hands of traffickers.

“It is a silent and desperate situation- out of sight and out of mind. Yet tens of thousands of children face danger every day and hundreds of thousands more are prepared to risk everything,” said Marie Pierre Poirier, Unicef Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant crisis in Europe. “We urgently need to protect these children from all types of abuse and exploitation by those taking advantage of the situation to exploit their dreams”. 

With summer upon the Mediterranean, the latest numbers of children on the Central Mediterranean route may well be just the tip of the iceberg, according to UNICEF. Another 235,000 migrants are currently in Libya, tens of thousands of them unaccompanied children. 

It is clear these unaccompanied children are falling through the cracks and every day they are alone and left unprotected, they are vulnerable to exploitation, harm and abuse. 

“Every country – those the children leave, those they cross and those in which they seek asylum—has an obligation to establish protection systems focussed on the risks that unaccompanied children face. In the European Union and other destination countries, there is an opportunity for policy and legislative reforms to lead to more opportunities for safe, legal and regular channels for these children.” Poirier said.

In the UK, Unicef UK is calling on the UK Government to take immediate action to protect these children and reunite unaccompanied refugee children in Europe with their families in the UK, so they don’t have to experience the horrors of the camps in France, or the conditions throughout the rest of Europe, for a prolonged period of time.

- ENDS - 

Notes to Editors

Unicef spokespeople are available for interview on this topic. 

Unicef UK is calling on the UK Government to: 

1) Ensure that sufficient resources are dedicated to making the family reunion process function effectively including funding Home Office staffing, proactive identification of children, and reducing delays in the process (which should take a maximum of 3 months).

2) Ensure that children receive reliable information – in languages they understand and child-sensitive format – about the family reunion process.

3) Guarantee access to quality legal assistance for unaccompanied children, so that their request for family reunion in the UK can be submitted as quickly as possible.

4) Publish guidance on how to handle family reunion cases under Dublin III, and resource local authorities to conduct the necessary assessments of families to ensure that family reunion is in a child’s best interest.

Later this week Unicef UK and Unicef France will publish a joint report on the conditions in the camps in Northern France. This will include new details on the abuse and sexual exploitation faced by unaccompanied refugee children living in these camps. The research emphasises the need for swift Government action to act to protect these vulnerable children and reunite them with family in the UK.

For more information please contact:

Lilly Carlisle, Unicef UK, on +44 (0)207 375 6212 or lillyc@unicef.org.uk

Emily Poyser, Unicef UK, on +44 (0)207 375 6154 or emilyp@unicef.org.uk 

About Unicef: 

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. 

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk