The U.N. Children’s Fund is urging G-7 leaders meeting in Taormina, Sicily to adopt an action plan to keep refugee and migrant children safe, following the deaths of at least 200 refugee and migrants children this year.
UNICEF reports the refugees and migrants children, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, died along Mediterranean Sea routes from North Africa to Italy.
Data from early 2017 shows a growing number of refugees and migrants are taking the perilous central Mediterranean route to reach Europe. According to UNICEF, more than 45,000 people, including some 5,500 unaccompanied and separated children, have arrived in Italy by sea. That is 44 percent higher than last year.
Speaking by phone from Sicily, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said far too many children - more than one a day - are literally dying trying to get to Italy. Tthose who make it suffer starvation, beatings, and slave-like conditions before and during the journey.
He said unaccompanied children who spoke to a doctor after their arrival in the Italian seaport of Lampedusa in the last three days painted a picture of horror and abuse by smugglers who ferried them across the sea.
“One young Eritrean girl, he said [i.e., the doctor], was so traumatized," Forsyth added. "She had been raped before embarking and on her journey. We know Libya is particularly challenging for young women. He also said there was a young boy who had visible signs of torture.”
UNICEF reports the number of children seeking asylum in Europe between 2008 and 2016 has grown from one in five to one in three. Most come from Eritrea, Gambia, Nigeria, Egypt and Guinea.
The Italian G7 presidency is making migration a priority for this year’s talks. Forsyth says even if the leaders cannot agree on the wide migrant and refugee crisis, it is hoped they will agree on something practical to help children who are most vulnerable.
UNICEF’s six-point agenda for action includes a call for protection of refugee and migrant children from exploitation and violence, the end of detention for child asylum seekers, and keeping families together.