Wed. Dec 6th, 2023

The Mediterranean, “a cemetery” ;re for children », says UNICEF

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Many migrant children cross the Mediterranean on boats fortune. (Archive photo)

Agence France-Presse

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A “cemetery for children”. Three times as many migrants died or disappeared this summer while trying to cross the Mediterranean, UNICEF warned on Friday, in the midst of diplomatic negotiations on the European side on the migration issue.

Between June and August, at least 990 people were shipwrecked in the central Mediterranean, the world's most dangerous shipping route linking North Africa and Africa. ;Europe, three times more than the 334 migrants who lost their lives over the same period in 2022, according to a count by the UN children's agency.

Since January 2023, at least 289 children have died during these crossings, Nicolo dell'Arciprete, UNICEF coordinator for Italy, said on Friday during a press conference in Rome .

The agency told AFP in Paris that 11,600 unaccompanied minors had attempted to travel to Italy between January and mid-September 2023 aboard makeshift boats, i.e. 60% more than over the same period last year (7,200).

The Mediterranean has become a cemetery for children and their future. The tragic toll of children dying in search of asylum and safety in Europe is the result of political choices and a failing migration system, said Regina De Dominicis, who coordinates the subject at UNICEF .

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This image provided by the German NGO Sea-watch shows a boat carrying a group of migrants in distress in the southern Mediterranean Sea.

In total, summed up the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Thursday, during a meeting of the Security Council devoted to the crisis in Mediterranean, this brings to more than 2,500 the number of migrants dead or missing between January 1 and September 24, 2023, an increase of 50% over one year.

The spectacular images of arrivals in mid-September on the small Italian island of Lampedusa have brought back into focus the burning issue of European cooperation in the management of migratory flows.

With 8,500 people disembarking in three days on the island, more than its total population, the arrivals have sparked a local crisis in Lampedusa and a political storm in Italy, which is multiplying measures of ;urgency and firmness since.

Latest example to date: the government of Giorgia Meloni, at the head of a right-wing and far-right coalition, approved Wednesday evening in the Council of Ministers a draft decree which opens the possibility of placing minors unaccompanied children over 16 years old in adult facilities and to have them undergo medical examinations to determine their age.

If the project must still be approved by Parliament, where the ultra-conservative government has an absolute majority, the text authorizes anthropometric measurements and examinations such as x-rays to determine the age of young migrants. Objective: It will no longer be possible to lie about your true age to avoid possible expulsion, Giorgia Meloni warned on her Facebook page.

A worrying provision, the spokesperson for UNICEF in Italy, Andrea Iacomini, expressed alarm to AFP.

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After staying at the reception center on the island of Lampedusa, these migrants are transferred to Sicily. (Archive photo)

On the European scene, the situation in the Mediterranean has relaunched discussions in Brussels around the migration pact, mired in dissension since its presentation in 2020 by the European Commission.

The European reform project provides in particular for a strengthening of external borders or even a solidarity mechanism between the Twenty-Seven in the care of asylum seekers.

The leaders of the nine Mediterranean countries of the EU are still due to meet this Friday in Malta to agree their positions on this issue.

Adopting a European-wide response to support children and families is absolutely necessary to prevent more children from suffering, said Regina De Dominicis of the 27 ;UNICEF.

According to the UN agency, it is war, conflict, violence and poverty that are driving children to flee their country of origin alone.

After the risks of exploitation and abuse at each stage of exile, shipwreck at sea, those who reach European shores are first detained in centers before being transferred to generally closed reception structures, deplores the UNICEF. The agency counts 21,700 unaccompanied children in these centers in Italy, compared to 17,700 a year ago.

In this regard, the latest Italian turn of the screw particularly worries: We cannot put them with adults, warns Andrea Iacomini in Italy.


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