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Most Migrants are Children, Women

A young migrant pulls a fire extinguisher in a muddy field at a camp of makeshift shelters for migrants and asylum-seekers from Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran and Syria, called the Grande Synthe jungle, near Dunkirk, France, January 25, 2016.

The U.N. Children’s Fund says children and women, for the first time since the migrant crisis exploded in Europe, make up the majority of refugees and migrants on the move.

Barely six months ago, UNICEF reported men made up 73 percent of the migrant flow through Europe. Since then, it says there has been a major spike in the numbers of children and women on the move. They now account for 60 percent of the refugees and migrants crossing the Greek border into Macedonia.

UNICEF says more children and women than before are dying while making the treacherous sea crossing between Turkey and Greece.

The International Organization for Migration estimates 60 children under the age of 18 died during the past month on the so-called Eastern Mediterranean route, bringing the total number of minors who have drowned during the past five months to 330.

UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crowe tells VOA those who survive the perilous sea crossing encounter other problems on land. She says European countries are overwhelmed by the large number of refugees and migrants, and do not have the necessary protection, health and welfare systems in place.

“There really needs much greater attention paid to strengthening the systems, the child protection systems, because if they are not, if they are not fully accounted for, they risk exploitation, they risk abuse," said Crowe.

Crowe says many children are unaccompanied. The majority are adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 who come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“What we see in some cases that they get left behind in countries where they are temporarily detained or delayed. Therefore, they get frustrated and simply move on," he said.

Crowe says the migratory process needs to be faster. She says it needs to embrace the best interests of the child, including fully informing children of their rights to claim asylum and to family reunification in Europe.