Refugee and migrant children – some travelling with their families, some alone – risk everything, even their own lives, in search of a better life. Millions of uprooted families flee their homes to escape conflict, persecution and poverty in countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan.
When children and young people feel that they have no choices, no sense of a future, and where there are no safe and legal alternatives for migration available to them, uprooted children will take matters into their own hands, facing even greater risks of exploitation at the hands of people smugglers and traffickers.
"There are far more reasons that push children to leave their homes and fewer pull factors that lure them to Europe. But for those who do aim to come to Europe, the allure is the chance to further their education, find respect for their rights and get ahead in life. Once they reach Europe, their expectations are sadly shattered."
- Afshan Khan, Regional Director for UNICEF in Europe and Central Asia.
All children on the move are vulnerable to abuse and other grave forms of violence during and after their journeys. It is estimated that more than one child dies every day along the perilous Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy. Of the almost 100,000 refugees and migrants travelling via this route in the past year, around 15 per cent are children.
The vast majority are boys aged 16 to 17 travelling alone from numerous countries in West Africa and the Horn of Africa. For many, Europe may not be their intended destination when they set out on their journey: most head for neighbouring countries at first, but the abuse they experience along the way compels them to push on towards Europe.