Growing number of asylum seeker children making sea journey to Greece, UNICEF says
Children now make up more than a third of asylum seekers making the perilous sea journey from Turkey to Greece, according to the UN children’s agency UNICEF.
“Children currently account for 36 per cent of those risking the treacherous sea crossing between Greece and Turkey,” spokeswoman Sarah Crowe said.
And for the first time since the start of the migrant crisis in Europe, there are also now more women and children crossing the border from Greece to Macedonia than adult males.
“Children and women on the move now make up nearly 60 per cent,” Ms Crowe said.
The figures mark a significant shift since June, when 73 per cent of asylum seekers were adult males and only one in 10 were under the age of 18.
Marie Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s special coordinator for the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, said women and children were even more vulnerable to the dangers of trying to travel to Europe.
“The implication of this surge in the proportion of children and women on the move are enormous,” she said in a statement.
“It means more are at risk at sea, especially now in the winter, and more need protection on land.”
Underlining her point, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said 60 children were among the 272 who drowned while trying to sail from Turkey to Greece in January.
The plight of children was brought home last year when the body of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi was found washed up on the shore of the Greek island of Lesbos, horrifying the international community.
More babies found drowned off Turkish coast
The bodies of two more babies were recovered by the Turkish coastguard in the Izmir province on Tuesday along with seven dead adults, just days after another 37 people drowned off another part of the coast.
The drownings continue a grim trend that accelerated last year when nearly 4,000 people died trying to reach Europe by sea.
The EU has urged Greece to check the flow of asylum seekers to its shores, including better registration and security checks, or risk having border controls imposed with other members of the passport-free Schengen zone.
Greece responded by saying the army will do more to help police and port authorities deal with the new arrivals.
In January, almost 62,200 migrants and refugees entered Europe through Greece, most of them from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, the IOM said, close to a third of them unaccompanied minors.
The Europol police agency warned that youngsters arriving alone were particularly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and trafficking.
More than 10,000 unaccompanied asylum seeker children have disappeared in Europe over the past 18 months to two years, the EU’s law enforcement agency said.
The figures emerged as Europe struggles with its biggest movement of people crisis since World War II, with more than a million people fleeing war, violence and poverty risking life and limb to reach its shores last year.
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