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Study: Most Europe-bound Refugee, Migrant Children Face Abuse

FILE - Unaccompanied minors from north Africa sit by the river Tiber, in Fiumicino, Italy, 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Rome, April 21, 2016.

A joint study by the U.N. Children’s Fund and International Organization for Migration says up to three-quarters of refugee and migrant children and young people trying to reach Europe are abused, exploited and subject to trafficking.

The study, based on 20,000 interviews, 11,000 with refugee and migrant children, describes in detail the appalling levels of human rights abuses to which people on the move are subjected.

It finds children and young people traveling on the central Mediterranean route are at a particularly high risk of exploitation and trafficking. U.N. Children’s Fund spokeswoman Sarah Crowe told VOA those moving along this route are mainly young Africans traveling across the Sahara from the Ivory Coast, Gambia, Nigeria, or other West African countries.

“We also see from this report that the children who have less education and who are coming from sub-Saharan Africa have got a greater risk of being exploited, beaten and discriminated against at every step of the way, but specifically in Libya,” Crowe said.

The report says most of the migrants and refugees passing through Libya are exposed to lawlessness, militias and criminality. A spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, Leonard Doyle, said the young people, ages 14 to 24, pay smugglers between $1,000 and $5,000 for their perilous journey.

“People willingly go there. They pay for the journey. But, they do not realize that they are stepping into a trap where they become exploited. Horribly so. Women get put into the sex trade or sold as slaves. Boys are hugely abused.”

The report is calling for the establishment of more regular, safe pathways for children on the move. It says services should be strengthened to protect migrant and refugee children whether in countries of origin, transit or destination.

The study adds children on the move should not be held in detention and that other, less abusive alternatives, must be found.