Unaccompanied children as young as 12 are risking their lives as they flee political instability in North Africa in migrant boats bound for Europe, Save the Children has warned.
120 lone children are at a reception centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa after making a potentially deadly journey across the Mediterranean in boats. Such children frequently arrive on the island cold, hungry and terrified after spending days at sea without enough food, water and shelter.
Those who make the crossing successfully are the lucky ones. Many of the boats develop problems that can leave them adrift in the Mediterranean for days without food or water.
On Friday, a boat bound for Lampedusa carrying hundreds of people was wrecked off the coast of Libya as those on board attempted to flee violence in Tripoli, with at least two young children reported to be among the dead.
Last month, 61 migrants reportedly starved to death when their boat ran into trouble making the crossing. Survivors said their pleas for help were ignored by European military units they encountered while adrift for days. Others have drowned after their boats sank in bad weather.
According to Save the Children, children are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, cold and death by drowning because their bodies are weaker. Many of those who do reach the island are traumatised by their experiences. Sixteen year old Khaled told aid workers that his elder brother drowned in their crossing from Tunisia.*
“The journey lasted 18 hours and the sea was very rough,” he told Save the Children. “My brother’s boat sank and 41 people drowned. Only five people survived. I thought my boat would be shipwrecked as well, but we were saved by a coastguard boat.”
Justin Forsyth, Save the Children’s chief executive said: “One can only imagine the fear and desperation that drives children to take such grave risks to reach Europe. Many of them are fleeing the most appalling violence, but sadly reaching the safety they crave is exposing them to even greater danger.”
2744 migrants have arrived on Lampedusa, a popular Mediterranean tourist destination, since the beginning of May. Many have been transferred to the Italian mainland, but more than 300 people are still being held in the reception centre. Almost 1500 unaccompanied children have been transferred to mainland Italy since the beginning of 2011.
Save the Children is working to help children on Lampedusa, offering legal support to new arrivals and ensuring that they have enough food and water when they arrive at the port after their journey. The children’s charity is also working with victims of the Libya conflict in Benghazi in the east of the country and on Tunisia’s border with Libya.
Save the Children has launched a £1 million appeal to fund its work in Libya. To donate call 0800 8148 148 or visit www.savethechildren.org.uk/libya-appeal.
For more information, case studies or interviews please contact Andrew Wander in Save the Children's media team on +44 (0)207 324 4959, +44 (0)7827 369757, or out of hours on +44 (0)7831 650 409.
Name has been changed to protect identity.
Andrew Wander Media Manager - Humanitarian Emergencies Save the Children, 1 St John's Lane, London EC1M 4AR Direct line +44 (0)207 324 4959 Mobile +44 (0) 7827 369 757 On call media phone: 07831 650 409
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