Italy + 2 more

Mediterranean rescue vessels must not be prevented from saving refugee and migrant children at sea - UNICEF

NEW YORK/GENEVA, 17 July 2017 - With thousands of refugees and migrants being pulled from the Mediterranean Sea each week, UNICEF is warning that a proposed code of conduct for NGOs carrying out search and rescue missions could put many lives at risk – especially those of children.

The new code being proposed by Italian authorities to crack down on trafficking and smuggling prioritizes law enforcement, while limiting the movement and operations of NGO rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean – changes which could inadvertently hinder rescues and cause deaths.

“Since the start of the migration crisis, Italy has made incredible efforts to save refugees and migrants stranded at sea and provide support to those who have reached its shores,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth.

“Italy should be applauded for this. At the same time, law enforcement and security objectives – no matter how justifiable – must not inadvertently prevent lifesaving work to save children from drowning.” Under the proposed code, NGO vessels would be prevented from entering Libyan waters to conduct rescues and barred from making phone calls or firing flares to signal their location to migrant boats in distress. The code would also allow for police and security officials to board NGO vessels, potentially compromising NGO independence, and includes a plan whereby children are at greater risk of being returned to Libya without any protection measures in place, exposing them to the very deprivations, harm and grave violations that caused them to flee in the first place.

Nearly 90,000 refugees and migrants – 15 per cent of whom are children – have arrived in Italy by sea so far this year. This is 70,000 more arrivals than for all the other EU countries in the Mediterranean combined. Between January and June 2017 UNICEF-supported teams on rescue boats identified 2,343 children at risk and provided nearly 1,000 women and children with hygiene items and other basic supplies on the boats. “Italy continues to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden for the care and support of refugees and migrants across the EU,” said Forsyth. “But restrictions on sea rescues or sending refugee children back to Libya are not solutions. The rest of the EU and international community more broadly must step up to help Italy, by supporting rescue missions, allowing boats to disembark and doing the right thing for children uprooted.”

Note to editors:

Between January and June 2017, UNICEF-supported teams on rescue boats identified 2,343 children at risk and provided nearly 1,000 women and children with hygiene items and other basic supplies on the boats.
At the recent G20 and G7 summits, UNICEF urged governments to take action to protect child refugees and migrant as part of its six-point plan of Action for Children Uprooted which calls for the protection of every child uprooted by war, violence and poverty. The plan calls on governments to:

  1. Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence;

  2. End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives;

  3. Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status;

  4. Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services;

  5. Press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants;

  6. Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

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For more information, please contact:

Sarah Crowe, UNICEF Geneva, Tel: +41 79 543 80 29
Christopher Tidey, UNICEF New York, Tel: +1 917 340 3017,