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UNICEF and IOM find young refugees trying to reach Europe face appalling human rights abuses

Date of Publication: 
18 September 2017

'Harrowing Journeys' report looks at the experiences of children and young people aged 14 to 24

UNICEF and IOM find young refugees trying to reach Europe face appalling human rights abuses

18 September 2017

A report released last week by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) highlights the appalling human rights abuses faced by young migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean.

The 64-page report, Harrowing Journeys, looks at the experiences of children and young people aged 14 to 24 and can be read here.

Some 22,000 migrants and refugees, including 11,000 children and youth, were interviewed by IOM for the report.

The report found that 77 per cent of young migrants and refugees travelling along the Central Mediterranean route reported direct experiences of abuse, exploitation, and practices which may amount to human trafficking.

On the Eastern Mediterranean route, the number of young migrants and refugees reporting exploitation dropped to 17 per cent.

Adolescents and young people from sub-Saharan Africa were found to be at particularly high risk of trafficking and exploitation, with the report concluding racism is likely a major factor underlying this differential treatment.

Young migrants and refugees travelling alone were also found to be more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. On the Eastern Mediterranean route, travelling alone was found to more than double the risk.

In the report, UNICEF sets out its agenda for action, and calls for a six-point plan to keep refugee and migrant children safe:

  • Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence;
  • End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives;
  • Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status;
  • Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services;
  • Press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants;
  • Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

Afshan Khan, UNICEF's Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, said: "The stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against."

Khan called upon EU leaders to put in place lasting solutions that include safe and legal migration pathways, establishing protection corridors and finding alternatives to the detention of migrant children.

Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM's European director, said: "For people who leave their countries to escape violence, instability or poverty, the factors pushing them to migrate are severe and they make perilous journeys knowing that they may be forced to pay with their dignity, their wellbeing or even their lives."

"Without the establishment of more regular migration pathways, other measures will be relatively ineffective. We must also re-invigorate a rights-based approach to migration, improving mechanisms to identify and protect the most vulnerable throughout the migration process, regardless of their legal status."