Children alone: pulled from the sea, fallen by the wayside

Publication date: 7 September 2016

Alone, confused and scared. Their rights curbed and hopes crushed. This is the state of far too many children who make it across the Mediterranean to “safety”.

The latest data estimates that more than 10 million people – around half of all the refugees worldwide – are “minors” (that is children under 18-years-old). At the same time, nearly 100,000 children who lodged an asylum request were unaccompanied - that is by definition those who are not assisted or represented by their parents or any other adult.

In Italy, according to the UNHCR, the number of unaccompanied children has risen significantly in 2016, and are now 15% of all arrivals. By the end of July, 13,705 unaccompanied children had landed in Italy, more than the whole of 2015 (12,360 children).

Italy is once again the principal arrival point for irregular migrants (this is people who enter a country without the documentation required by authorities) to Europe after governments decided to close the Western Balkan route and the European Union entered into its deal with Turkey. 

However, the Italian reception system has turned out to be inadequate for protecting lone refugee and migrant children and their rights. Even worse, during the first six months of 2016, 5,222 unaccompanied children were reported missing, having run away from reception centers. They become invisible, under the legal radar and are therefore even more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. To put it another way, in Italy alone, on average during each and every day in this past year, more than 28 unaccompanied children are “lost” from a broken system and into an unimaginable fate.