Unaccompanied children as young as 12 are embarking on a potentially deadly journey as they flee political instability in North Africa in migrant boats bound for Europe, and are at risk of starvation, thirst and death by drowning.
Wednesday 11 May 2011
Jalila, 30, sits with her children and their belongings in a refugee camp near the Tunisian border, after fleeing the conflict in Libya.
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.
Children most vulnerable
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 said. “My brother’s boat sank and 41 people drowned. Only 5 people survived. I thought my boat would be shipwrecked as well, but we were saved by a coastguard boat.”
“One can only imagine the fear and desperation that drives children to take such grave risks to reach Europe,” said Justin Forsyth, Save the Children’s chief executive. “Many of them are fleeing the most appalling violence but, sadly, reaching the safety they crave is exposing them to even greater danger.”
Almost 1,500 unaccompanied children transferred to Italy from Lampedusa
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.
We are also helping people families affected by the conflict in Libya by working in Benghazi in the east of the country and on Tunisia’s border with Libya.
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*His name has been changed to protect his identity.