No fewer than 25,800 unaccompanied or separated children mainly from four African countries – Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria and the Gambia — arrived Italy by sea in 2016, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says.
Lucio Melandri, the Senior Emergency Manager at UNICEF, said the number of children arriving in Italy by themselves via the sea in 2016 more than doubled that of 2015, according to the statement.
“In 2016, some 25,800 unaccompanied or separated children arrived in the European country, compared to the 12,360 who arrived in 2015.
“These children, arriving by themselves also accounted for a staggering 91 per cent of all the 28,200 children who reached Italy’s shores last year as refugees or migrants.
“A majority among of such arrivals were from Eritrea, Egypt, the Gambia and Nigeria.
“That’s more than double the number of 2015,” Melandri said.
The UNICEF official called for urgent and special measures to protect the children from trafficking, exploitation and abuse.
“These figures indicate an alarming trend of an increasing number of highly vulnerable children risking their lives to get to Europe.
“Current systems in place are failing to protect them as they find themselves alone in a completely unfamiliar environment,” he added.
He called for a coordinated European response given that the children were on the move.
“Apart from addressing the factors that are forcing children to travel alone, a comprehensive protection, monitoring system needs to be developed to protect them,” he stressed.
The UNICEF official said that the figures indicated an alarming trend of an increasing number of highly vulnerable children risking their lives to get to Europe.
“While most of the children were boys aged 15 to 17 years, younger children and girls have also been among the new arrivals,” he said.
Similarly, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had stepped up assistance in several European countries which are experiencing harsh winter conditions.
“In Greece, hundreds of people have been transferred to better accommodation in Lesvos and Chios over the past few days.
“In Serbia, some 1,200 males still stay in inadequate informal sites in Belgrade city centre, including up to 300 unaccompanied or separated boys.
“UNHCR is extremely concerned by reports that several refugees and migrants have lost their lives trying to enter or move across Europe, including five since the beginning of the year due to the freezing weather,” he said. (NAN)