More than 20,000 children arrived by sea to Italy, of whom 12,300 were unaccompanied and separated children, the U.N. Children Agency said. The number of child refugees has grown nearly 80 percent in just five years, according to a new report released by UNICEF. The U.N. agency states that the humanitarian situation of children in Italy is "increasingly desperate" and the Italian child protection system is "overstretched."
"Each week hundreds of children arrive here, every one of them has real burning needs – from the newborn babies to the teenagers travelling alone who have no idea what to expect in a foreign land," said Sabrina Avakian, Unicef's child protection officer currently in Calabria, Italy to assess the needs of refugee and migrant children especially the new arrivals.
"Some of the children are deeply distressed from the journey, they witnessed drownings, some have terrible chemical burns from the fuel on the dinghies," says Avakian.
Between 2010 and 2015, the number of child refugees under UNHCR's mandate shot up by 7 percent, from 5 million to 8 million. By comparison, the total number of child migrants rose by only 21 percent during the decade between 2005 and 2015, from 25 million to 31 million. During the entire year of 2015 that marked the peak of the refugee crisis in Europe, only about 12,400 children had reached Italy alone, representing three quarters of all arriving underage migrants.