UNICEF Geneva Palais briefing note on the 60 per cent increase of unaccompanied children crossing deadly Central Mediterranean route

This is a summary of what was said by UNICEF’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, Regina De Dominicis, – to whom quoted text may be attributed - at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva

29 September 2023

GENEVA, 29 September 2023 – “Next week will mark a decade since a tragic shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa killed hundreds of people, including children.

“The tragedy should have been a watershed moment - an opportunity to put in place policies to prevent such a horrific event from happening again on European shores. 

“Instead, the Mediterranean has become a cemetery for children and their futures.  Policies today prevent effective, coordinated search and rescue at sea. Policies today have left countries and communities managing migration and asylum, alone. No country can manage this alone, nor should they. 

“These policies are driven by a lack of collaboration, cooperation and political leadership, the impact of which is a tragedy for children.

“This summer we saw a tripling in the number of children and adults dying on the Central Mediterranean Sea migration route compared to last summer. 

“At places of departure, children are placed on overcrowded dinghies, iron barges and shoddy fishing boats wildly unsuitable for navigating poor weather conditions.  Some are placed in the hold of the ship, suffering unimaginable consequences when boats capsize, and leaving no chance of survival.

“But we must be clear. Children are not dying just because the boats are unseaworthy. They are dying because of policy choices. 

“It is in governments hands to prevent these deaths. 

“The European Union is currently rewriting the way migration and asylum is managed in Europe. They have choices. 

“Member States’ ongoing debate on the European Union Pact on Migration and Asylum presents an immediate opportunity to affirm and uphold key child protection principles.

“Together we must develop policies that address violations of children’s rights in countries of departure, in transit and on arrival. 

“UNICEF is calling for children's best interests to be the central consideration in asylum procedures and decisions about their care and protection.

“More social workers are needed in reception centers, more support is needed at disembarkation areas to identify children who need specialised care, and safer and legal pathways are needed for children to seek asylum and safety in Europe.

“This year, more than 11,600 children have crossed the Central Mediterranean Sea to Italy without their parents or legal guardians. This is an increase of 60 per cent compared to this time last year. Thousands more children, alone.

“It is a matter of policy choice to protect them and honour them, and all children who will seek asylum and safety in Europe in the future."

Media contacts

Iryna Mazur
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF Europe and Central Asia


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