According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the number of boys and girls who died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in the first half of 2023 reached 289, doubling compared to the same period in 2022.
UNICEF reported that this figure is equivalent to approximately 11 children dying every week, stressing the urgency of the situation. Vera Knaus, the agency’s Global Lead on Migration and Displacement, expressed concern over the silence surrounding these preventable deaths and urged the world to take action.
The increasing numbers of children embarking on the dangerous sea journey from North Africa to Europe are driven by conflict and climate change. UNICEF estimated that around 11,600 children made the crossing during the first six months of the year, nearly twice as many as in the same period last year.
However, the actual number of child casualties is likely higher, as many shipwrecks in the Central Mediterranean go unrecorded or leave no survivors.
UNICEF emphasized the need to address the crisis and strengthen child protection, social protection, and migration and asylum systems. Efforts should be made to provide support and inclusive services to all children, regardless of their legal status or that of their parents.
The agency called on countries in the region and the European Union (EU) to prioritize the protection of vulnerable children at sea and in countries of origin, transit, and destination.
Safe, legal, and accessible pathways for children to seek protection and reunite with their families should be established, along with enhanced coordination on search and rescue operations and prompt disembarkation to safe locations.
Knaus emphasized that rescuing boats in distress is a fundamental rule in international maritime law and that pushbacks at sea or land borders are violations of national, EU, and international law.
UNICEF urges the international community to take collective action to prevent further tragedies and safeguard the rights and lives of children on the move.
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