Unaccompanied Migrant and Refugee Children Exploited and Smuggled to Europe

Twins Aimamo and Ibrahim, 16, at a beach in Trabia, Italy, on May 14, 2016. They live at Rainbow, a center for unaccompanied boys. Twins Aimamo and Ibrahim, 16, at a beach in Trabia, Italy, on May 14, 2016. They live at Rainbow, a center for unaccompanied boys. © UNICEF/UN020012/Gilbertson VII Photo

15 June 2016
The number of unaccompanied children in the hands of smugglers has doubled in 2016, exposing them to exploitation.

Within the first five months of this year, 7,009 unaccompanied children arrived in Europe through Italy from North Africa. This is already twice the total number from 2015, according to a UNICEF report, Danger Every Step of the Way, published earlier this month. UNICEF has issued  a warning of the growing risk of abuse, exploitation and death among the unaccompanied refugee and migrant children.

The unaccompanied children rely on smugglers to transport them to Europe, but their lack of funds often leaves them vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of human traffickers. Italian social workers reported that the children were sexually abused and forced into prostitution in Libya to pay for their travel to Europe. Many of the girls arrived in Italy pregnant after having been raped.

"If you try to run, they shoot you and you die. If you stop working, they beat you. It was just like the slave trade," said  16-year old Aimamo as he described the farm that he  and his twin brother had worked at in Libya for two months to pay the smugglers and traffickers. "Once I was just resting for five minutes, and a man beat me with a cane. After finishing your  working, they lock you inside."

Migrants and refugees who attempt to  make their way into Europe through the Mediterranean are likely to be  exposed to exploitative environments to pay their way across the sea. Once they manage to begin their journey, smugglers cram the people onto undersized boats, which  often results in the boat capsizing and people drowning.

"Every country - those the children leave, those they cross and those in which they seek asylum - has an obligation to establish protection systems focused on the risks that unaccompanied children face. In the European Union and other destination countries, there is an opportunity for policy and legislative reforms to lead to more opportunities for safe, legal and regular channels for these children," said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.


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