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UNICEF calls for better refugee protections after 150 children die crossing the Mediterranean

Refugees need more legal avenues to reach safety, UNICEF said following news that 150 children have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year.

People fleeing poverty and conflict need more legal avenues to reach safety, UNICEF said on April 21 following news that at least 849 people –including 150 children – have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea so far this year.

The number of people who have survived the Central Mediterranean crossing and reached Italy by sea has increased 42 percent over the same period last year, UNICEF said. The charity estimated 37,000 refugees have reached Italy by sea since January 1.

“This is further evidence that when safe and legal pathways to migration are cut off, desperate children and families will do whatever they can to flee conflict, poverty and depravation,” said UNICEF regional director Afshan Khan, who is the special coordinator for the refugee crisis in Europe.

During Easter weekend alone, 8,300 people were rescued from the sea between Libya and Italy.

The number of unaccompanied children has also increased, UNICEF said. During January and February, 1,875 children arrived in Italy via the Mediterranean Sea, a 40 percent increase over last year.

UNICEF said the number of people risking the journey is likely to increase as the weather improves.

Deaths at sea

On April 7, the International Organisation for Migration said 663 people had been killed or were missing after trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

IOM’s Missing Migrants Project recorded 663 deaths or missing people between January 1 and April 6, compared to 749 in 2016. A total of 14 fatalities have been recorded near Greece, 47 off Spain and 602 documented between Libya and Italy.

On April 19, Libya’s interior ministry said the bodies of 28 people were recovered in a boat near Sabratha. They are believed to have died of dehydration.

“Their boat stopped in the middle of the water because their engine was broken,” interior ministry security chief Ahmaida Khalifa Amsalam said.

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has called for Frontex, Europe’s border agency, to mandate its coast guard ships conduct search and rescue operations at sea.

 

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