More than three-quarters of children and young adults trying to migrate to Europe are victims of torture, rape and other abuse on the dangerous journey, U.N. officials said yesterday, warning against "cynicism" over the repeated tragedies.
Officials from children's rights agency UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said young migrants coming from sub-Saharan Africa via the Mediterranean were particularly at risk from abuse, likely due to racism.
"They use words like torture, beating, killing, slavery, trafficking, rape, not like abstract concepts, not something they have to write a report for school, but as their reality," UNICEF Brussels director Sandie Blanchet told a press conference.
"Just imagine for a second your own kids going through that," Blanchet said after UNICEF and IOM published a report based on extensive interviews.
The report said 77 percent of children and young people trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe had suffered "direct experiences of abuse, exploitation and practices which may amount to human trafficking." Those from sub-Saharan Africa are far more likely to experience such suffering than those from elsewhere, it said. "Racism is likely a major underlying factor behind this discrepancy." The report surveyed 22,000 migrants and refugees including 11,000 children and young people.
Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM's director for the EU, Norway and Switzerland, called on officials to deploy a better border management system with trained experts to care for children rather treat them as "a potential enemy crossing illegally our sacred border." Ambrosi also warned against growing "cynicism" over repeated stories of child migrant suffering: "We have to continue to be shocked and sad and angry at the violation we see." The main migration route from Libya is particularly dangerous due to lawlessness, militias and criminality, the report said.
Young migrants pay between $1,000-5,000 (800-4000 euros) for the journey only to arrive in Europe in debt and facing new risks.
The U.N. accused the EU last week of turning a "blind eye" to the brutality faced by migrants held in Libya and urged urgent action to help them. Blanchet said African migrants also experienced racism after they reached Europe, which continues to struggle with the biggest migration crisis in its history.
The voyage from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy remains the most popular route - 95,000 migrants have set sail this year - yet numbers are down compared with 2016, while sea arrivals to Spain from Morocco have tripled. The drop in numbers comes amid controversial Italian decisions to launch a naval mission in Libyan waters to support the coast guard there, and regulate sea rescues by non-governmental organizations through a code of conduct.
The subject of immigration is dominating Italy's political agenda ahead of general elections due before May next year, with public opinion increasingly hostile to migrants. Almost 600,000 migrants have arrived in Italy over the past four years.