By Prudence Arobani
New York- The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Friday decried the increase in the number of migrants, including children, attempting to reach Europe using the Central Mediterranean route.
Ms Afshan Khan, the UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, also decried the consequent rise in the number of deaths by those crossing the Mediterranean,
The UNICEF top official called for safe and legal pathways for those who are fleeing conflict, poverty and depravation.
According to UNICEF estimates, at least 849 people, including more than 150 children, perished at sea while trying to make the perilous crossing since January this year.
“It is deeply concerning that vulnerable people, including thousands of children, are risking their lives to reach Europe’s shores using this incredibly dangerous route.
“Since the start of the year, nearly 37,000 refugees and migrants, 13 per cent of them children, have reached Italy by sea via the Central Mediterranean.
“This is an increase of 42 per cent compared to the same period last year.
“In particular, unaccompanied and separated children are at most risk, and these numbers too have seen a dramatic increase.
“In January and February this year, some 1,865 unaccompanied and separated children arrived in Italy, an increase of 40 per cent compared to the same period last year”, Khan said.
UNICEF also noted that recent good weather and calmer waters in the Mediterranean have been accompanied by a surge in refugees and migrants attempting to cross.
During the last Easter weekend alone, more than 8,300 were rescued from the sea between Libya and Italy, the UN agency said.
It added that at least eight migrants were reported to have drowned over the weekend.
“This is further evidence that when safe and legal pathways to migration are cut off, desperate children and families will do whatever they can to flee conflict, poverty and depravation,” Khan added.
As part of its global policy for children on the move, the UN agency has been calling for more action to protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children.
It has also been calling for an end to the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, and to promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.
UNICEF has also underlined the need to keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status.
“This is to ensure that all refugee and migrant children have opportunities to learn, access to health care and other quality services.
“It and is also to address the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants,” the UN Children’s agency said.