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Unicef - Number of unaccompanied children arriving by sea to Italy doubles in 2016

Urgent Home Office action needed as just three unaccompanied children were transferred from italy to the uk last year

Some 25,800 unaccompanied and separated children arrived to Italy by sea in 2016 – more than double the 12,360 who arrived during the previous year. These children account for a staggering 91 per cent of all the 28,200 children who reached Italy’s shores in 2016 as refugees or migrants.

“These figures indicate an alarming trend of an increasing number of highly vulnerable children risking their lives to get to Europe,” said Lucio Melandri, UNICEF Senior Emergency Manager. “Current systems in place are failing to protect these children who find themselves alone in a totally unfamiliar environment. Because they are on the move, a coordinated European response is needed to keep them safe.”

The majority of these unaccompanied or separated children who arrived this past year originated from just four countries: Eritrea, Egypt, the Gambia and Nigeria. While most of the children were boys aged 15 to 17 years, younger children and girls have also been among the new arrivals. Girls in particular are at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, including commercial sexual exploitation by criminal gangs. Several girls interviewed by UNICEF staff earlier this year in Palermo reported being forced into prostitution in Libya as a means to ‘pay off’ the cost of the boat travel across the Mediterranean, while many of the boys who arrive in Libya are forced into manual labour.     

The Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy is unique for the incredibly high proportion of unaccompanied and separated children among the refugees and migrants. By comparison, only 17 per cent of the child refugees and migrants who arrived to Greece by sea in 2016 were unaccompanied by adult family members or guardians.

“The presence of so many unaccompanied or separated children along the Central Mediterranean route is unprecedented,” said Melandri. “And it is obviously clear that we have a serious and growing problem on our hands.”

Lily Caprani, Unicef UK’s Deputy Executive Director, said: “Just three unaccompanied children were transferred from Italy to the UK last year. In a year when the number of arrivals doubled, that is a concerning statistic.

“The Government has committed to ending dangerous journeys for children travelling across Europe through the Dubs amendment and by delivering on family reunion, but clearly this isn’t working yet, and children have already waited too long.

“The Government showed in Calais that it can make safe and legal routes to the UK work. We now need to see the same response to the urgent situation in Italy. Every day of inaction sees more children making perilous journeys across Europe and falling into the hands of smugglers and traffickers.”

Unicef UK is calling on the Home Office to fulfil its commitments to refugee children in Europe. This must include establishing and resourcing a system for referrals, with an outreach team, so that the Italian authorities, UN agencies and NGOs can identify and pass on cases of unaccompanied children who are eligible to be in the UK through the Dublin family reunion process or the Dubs amendment.

About Unicef:

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting 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.

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk

For more information, please contact:
Media team, 020 7375 6030, media@unicef.org.uk

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