Eleven children die every week attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean Sea migration route – UNICEF

So far in 2023, an estimated 11,600 children made the dangerous crossing. The majority were alone or separated from their parents

14 July 2023
Бебе бежанец в България, получава подкрепа от УНИЦЕФ и партньори
UNICEF Bulgaria/2022/Yotova
Момиче бежанец получава образователни материали от УНИЦЕФ в България
UNICEF Bulgaria/2022/Yotova

NEW YORK, Sofia, 14 July 2023 – At least 289 children are estimated to have died or disappeared this year attempting to cross the perilous Central Mediterranean Sea migration route from North Africa to Europe, according to UNICEF. This equates to nearly eleven children dying or disappearing every week as they search for safety, peace and better opportunities.

Since 2018, UNICEF estimates around 1,500 children have died or gone missing while attempting the Central Mediterranean Sea crossing. This number accounts for 1 in 5 of the 8,274 people who have died or gone missing on the route, according to IOM’s Missing Migrant Project records.

UNICEF estimates 11,600 children – an average of 428 children a week – arrived on the shores of Italy from North Africa since January 2023. This is a two-fold increase compared to the same period in 2022, despite the grave risks involved for children. The majority of children depart from Libya and Tunisia, having already made dangerous journeys from countries across Africa and the Middle East.

In the first three months of 2023, 3,300 children – 71 percent of all children arriving to Europe via this route - were recorded as unaccompanied or separated from parents or legal guardians, putting them at a greater risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. Girls travelling alone are especially likely to experience violence before, during and after their journeys.

Every day, thousands of children who have left their countries of origin cross the borders of Bulgaria, risking their lives in search of safety and security.

Since the beginning of the year, 7,694 applications for international protection have been registered by the State Agency for Refugees under the Council of Ministers in Bulgaria. 2,251 of them are of children, of whom more than half (1,293) are unaccompanied children, mainly from Afghanistan and Syria.  

UNICEF in Bulgaria is partnering with the State Agency for Refugees, municipalities and civil society to provide adequate protection and care to unaccompanied children.

Together with our partners we have supported nearly 850 unaccompanied children in Bulgaria since the beginning of 2023, with legal aid, access to information on guardianship and family reunification procedures, as well as, with mental health and psycho-social support. 

The Central Mediterranean Sea has become one of the most dangerous routes travelled by children. However, the risk of death at sea is just one of many tragedies these children face – from threats or experiences of violence, lack of educational or future opportunities, raids and immigration detention or separation from family. These risks are further compounded by limited pathways for children to move safely, lack of access to protection in countries along the way, and insufficient and slow search and rescue operations.

In line with obligations under international law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is calling on governments to better protect vulnerable children at sea and in countries of origin, transit and destination by:

  1. Protecting the rights and best interests of children in line with obligations under national and international law
  2. Providing safe and legal pathways for children to migrate and seek asylum, including expanded family reunification and refugee resettlement quota
  3. Strengthening coordination on search and rescue operations and ensuring prompt disembarkation to places of safety
  4. Strengthening national child protection systems to better include and protect children at risk of exploitation and violence, particularly unaccompanied children
  5. Improving prospects for children and adolescents in countries of origin and transit by addressing conflict and climate risks and expanding social protection coverage and opportunities to learn and earn
  6. Ensuring children have access to information to make safe and informed choices on their options and the dangers of crossing
  7. Keeping all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other essential services

UNICEF is also calling on the European Union to ensure the above are reflected in the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, which is under negotiation.

UNICEF continues its work to support countries in strengthening national child protection, social protection and migration and asylum systems to prevent and mitigate risks children face as they move and provide support and inclusive services to all children, regardless of their or their parents’ legal status.

Media contacts

Boryana Gidikova
Communication Officer
UNICEF Bulgaria
Tel: +359 893 52 52 40

UNICEF works in some of the world's toughest places, to reach the world's most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

For more information about UNICEF and its work, visit: www.unicef.org

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