300000 children migrating solo, up nearly fivefold

Gwen Vasquez
May 19, 2017

"The number is just the tip of the iceberg", UNICEF's deputy executive director Justin Forsyth said.

When they can't find opportunities to move legally, children sometimes have to resort to unsafe routes and engage smugglers to help them cross borders. "Once, I was just resting for five minutes, and a man beat me with a cane".

Almost all minors who made it across the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy previous year and so far in 2017 had arrived alone."Deprived, unprotected, and often alone, children on the move can become easy prey for traffickers and others who abuse and exploit them", UNICEF said. The report shows that an increasing number of these children are taking highly risky routes, often at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers, to reach their destinations, clearly justifying the need for a global protection system to keep them safe from exploitation, abuse and death.

Hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied children attempted to cross borders to seek safety over a two-year period. "After working, they lock you inside".

As much as 20 per cent of smugglers have links to human trafficking networks. The agency reported a jump of nearly 20,000 suspected smugglers between January 2016 and January 2017.

Ahead of the G7 Summit in Italy, UNICEF is calling on governments to adopt its six-point agenda for action to protect refugee and migrant children and ensure their wellbeing. They are then put to work to pay off the debt, through forced labor and prostitution, the report said.

Frist and foremost, the agency says, children need protection, highlighting the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, through which State Parties commit to respect and ensure the rights of "each child within their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any kind".

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Unicef has urged the British government to change its immigration rules on family reunion so that children can join relatives in the UK. This would eliminate the need to take risky journeys to Europe.

Of the 300,000, some 100,000 were caught trying to cross the border from Mexico to the US, UNICEF said.

"We must build upon the work done to bring children to safety from Calais a year ago and improve our rules on family reunion".

On a global scale, child victims of trafficking make up about 28% of unaccompanied minors who arrive in Europe, the report said.

Overall, 200,000 applied for asylum in around 80 countries, including 170,000 lone child refugees who applied for asylum in Europe.

George Graham, Save the Children's director of conflict and humanitarian policy, said: "Children fleeing violence, persecution and poverty are taking huge risks in search of safety ... it is vital that the European Union urgently establishes safe and legal routes which offer children the chance to find sanctuary, rather than being forced to make deadly journeys, often completely alone".

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