Up to three quarters of children and youth face abuse, exploitation and trafficking on Mediterranean migration routes


Up to three quarters of children and youth face abuse, exploitation and trafficking on Mediterranean migration routes

A child walks past mattresses laid on the floor in the women's section of the Al-Nasr detention centre in Zawiya, Libya, Sunday 20 August 2017.

Libya is a country in turmoil. Since 2014, security is precarious, living is hard, and violence is commonplace. The country is riven with militias in conflict with each other or Government forces. Thousands of children and women hoping to reach Europe travel from Africa and the Middle East to the sea in Libya. They endure exploitation, abuse, violence and detention. As of June 2017, the International Organization for Migration identified 390,198 migrants in Libya, 11% of which are women and 7% are minors. Children and women making the journey live in the shadows, unprotected, outside the law, and reliant on smugglers.

An estimated 34 detention centres have been identified in Libya. The Libyan Government Department for Combatting Illegal Migration runs 24 detention centres. They hold between 4,000 and 7,000 detainees. Armed groups hold migrants in an unknown number of unofficial detention centres. The international community, including UNICEF, only has access to some of the Government run detention centres. 

Women interviewed by UNICEF reported harsh conditions with detainees suffering from the intense heat in the summer and cold in the winter. The detention centres are extremely overcrowded with as many as 20 migrants crammed into cells not larger than two square meters for long periods of time. This results in significant adverse health outcomes including the loss of hearing and sight, and extremely challenging psychological challenges. The militia run detention centres are labour camps, farms warehouses and makeshift prisons run by armed groups. The thousands of migrant women and children incarcerated in the militia run detention centres face violence, sexual exploitation, overcrowding, starvation and abuse. Reports by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Right

© UNICEF/UN077995/Romenzi

A child walks past mattresses laid on the floor in the women’s section of the Al-Nasr detention centre in Zawiya, Libya, Sunday 20 August 2017.

Children from sub-Saharan Africa targeted more than any other group, pointing to impact of discrimination and racism Report calls on Europe to establish “safe and regular pathways” for migration.

NEW YORK/BRUSSELS/HONG KONG, 12 September 2017 – Migrant and refugee children and youth trying to reach Europe face appalling levels of human rights abuses, with 77 per cent of those traveling along the Central Mediterranean route reporting direct experiences of abuse, exploitation, and practices which may amount to human trafficking – UNICEF and IOM, the UN Migration Agency, said today in a new report.

Harrowing Journeys shows that while all migrants and refugees are at high risk, children and youth on the move are far more likely to experience exploitation and trafficking than adults aged 25 years and above: nearly twice as likely on the Eastern Mediterranean route and at a rate 13 per cent higher on the Central Mediterranean route.

Aimamo, a 16-year-old unaccompanied child from the Gambia interviewed at a shelter in Italy described being forced into months of grueling manual labor by traffickers upon his arrival in Libya. “If you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat you. We were just like slaves. At the end of the day, they just lock you inside.”

The report is based on the testimonies of some 22,000 migrants and refugees, including some 11,000 children and youth, interviewed by IOM.

“The stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe. “EU leaders should put in place lasting solutions that include safe and legal migration pathways, establishing protection corridors and finding alternatives to the detention of migrant children.”

“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,” said Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM’s Regional Director for the EU, Norway and Switzerland.

“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.”

The report also shows that, while all children on the move are at high risk, those originating from sub-Saharan Africa are far more likely to experience exploitation and trafficking than those from other parts of the world: 65 per cent compared to 15 per cent along the Eastern Mediterranean route, and 83 per cent compared to 56 per cent along the Central Mediterranean route. Racism is likely a major underlying factor behind this discrepancy.

Children and youth traveling alone or over longer periods, along with those possessing lower levels of education, were also found to be highly vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of traffickers and criminal groups over the course of their journeys. According to the report, the Central Mediterranean route is particularly dangerous, with most of the migrants and refugees passing through Libya which remains riven with lawlessness, militias and criminality. On average young people pay between $1,000-5,000 for the journey and often arrive in Europe in debt, which exposes them to further risks.

The report calls on all concerned parties − countries of origin, transit and destination, the African Union, the European Union, international and national organizations with support from the donor community – to prioritize a series of actions.

These include establishing safe and regular pathways for children on the move; strengthening services to protect migrant and refugee children whether in countries of origin, transit or destination; finding alternatives to the detention of children on the move; working across borders to combat trafficking and exploitation; and combatting xenophobia, racism and discrimination against all migrants and refugees.