The United Nations child welfare agency, Unicef said that this week alone, 125 children including 114 who were unaccompanied, were rescued at sea off the coast of Libya, risking their lives to reach Europe.
At least 350 people, including children and women, have drowned or gone missing in the Central Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe since the beginning of the year.
The Central Mediterranean continues to be one of the deadliest and most dangerous migration routes in the world, Unicef said.
“The number is incredibly alarming – it is the most that have been picked up in a single day this year and certainly one of the highest we have ever recorded,” said Juliette Touma, Unicef’s regional chief of communications.
“We are especially concerned that in the coming months as temperatures rise and the weather improves we will see increasing numbers of people including unaccompanied minors trying to reach the safety of Europe for a better life.”
The majority of youngsters picked up in the latest rescue are likely to be sent to overcrowded detention centres in Libya, leaving them stuck in a cycle of abuse, humanitarian agencies have warned.
An estimated 1,100 children remain in centres lacking clean water, basic hygiene and education, and where violence and exploitation is rife.
“Children should not be arrested and detained as migrants,” said Touma. “We have been following for many years the situation and have interviewed children who have told us about the appalling conditions.
“We are calling for the Libyan authorities to release all detained children under their custody.”
Libya hosts 51,828 migrant children and an estimated 14,572 refugee children, according to Unicef. Despite the dangers, and the coronavirus pandemic, there has been no decrease in the numbers seeking to reach Europe.
Those working on rescue missions in the central Mediterranean describe the stretch of water off Libya as being at times like an open morgue.
Last week, 130 migrants drowned after their flimsy dinghy capsized in a storm, with waves in the area off Tripoli reaching heights of six metres.
The volunteer-run Mediterranean hotline Alarm Phone said it had repeatedly relayed the GPS position of the boat in distress to the European and Libyan authorities on 21 April but no action was taken. The next day dozens of bodies could be seen in the sea.
Unicef has urged governments in the region to find safer routes to sea crossings and implement child-sensitive arrival procedures.
The agency said: “We call on authorities in Europe and the central Mediterranean to support and receive migrants and refugees coming to their shores and to strengthen search and rescue mechanisms.” (Source: The Guardian)