Migrants, children’s long journey through Africa and Mediterranean Sea

Migrants, children’s long journey through Africa and Mediterranean Sea

By Francesco Peloso/ lastampa.it

The UNICEF-Reach report: 100,000 arrived in Europe in 2016. The sufferings endured during the African journey induce many to come to the “old continent”, which is not always the goal destination.

From Africa to Italy a trip lasts an average of one year and two months, amidst risks, loneliness, sufferings, slavery, kidnappings and violence, especially in Libya. Then, after managing to escape, they land in Italy where, more than often, they undergo new abuses. According to UNICEF's research in a framework of partnership with Reach (a body of two different NGOs, Impact Initiatives and Acted, and a United Nations agency), this is the sad fate of children who are reaching the Italian and Greek coasts in recent months. The picture that emerged is based on a collection of data research conducted between December 2016 and May 2017 in Italy and Greece. A sample of 850 people of which 720 were unaccompanied children, was interviewed. But to understand the extent of the phenomenon, it is necessary to start from the general data. To have the big picture should be enough to know that of the 12,239 minors who arrived in Italy in the first six months of this year, 93 per cent traveled alone. Overall, in 2016, more than 100,000 refugees and migrants reached Europe, of which more than 33,800 where unaccompanied and separated children (34 per cent). It should be also noted that 75% of immigrant and migrant minors interviewed in Italy made the decision to travel alone.

In recent days, while addressing the "Summer School 2017" in Montepaone Lido (Italy) on the issue of minors-migrants, Father Fabio Baggio, Undersecretary of the Migration Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said: "Emigrating today means facing great sacrifices and often children pay the highest price, especially when they emigrate alone." "Just because they are foreigners - he added - all migrants are in fact vulnerable. They are often neglected, discriminated and marginalized. And among them, children constitute the most vulnerable group" because they are "minors, foreigners, and defenseless". “And minors who are irregular migrants - the representative of the Holy See continued, " often have to hide from authorities and do not have the right to access education and medical care. The situation of unaccompanied minors is particularly precarious. Many children and teenagers are lured into prostitution or child pornography, made slaves, forced into child labor or enlisted as soldiers." The Summer School initiative was promoted by the Sacred Heart Catholic University in collaboration with Scalabrini International Migration Institute (Simi), the Migrantes Foundation, the Ismu Foundation and the Scalabrinian Development Cooperation Agency (Ascs).

In the UNICEF-Reach research, interesting data emerges that proves wrong some common misconceptions on the matter. For example, less than half the children interviewed in Italy say they left the country of origin with the goal of reaching Europe, including Italy (46 per cent). "One fifth of the respondents (20 per cent)- reads the Report - left to reach North Africa or stay in a neighboring country (12 per cent), such as Mali or Senegal. While, “having access to education” (38%) and “respect for human rights” (18 per cent) were important factors that have influenced the children’s decision to reach the old continent. Conversely, “finding a job” was the first motivation among children whose plan was to move to a neighboring country in West Africa or North Africa.

Even Greece is not a particularly desirable target according to the study, many refugees have been forced to remain in this country, "stuck" between the closure of the Balkan route and the agreement between the EU and Turkey to prevent further migration flows. The most sought-after European nations remain Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.

The decisive factor leading to the decision to leave is to seek more security, but not only: parents and children see migrating as an opportunity to access better education systems or job opportunities, both perceived as more accessible in northern Europe than in Greece.

Families traveling from the Middle East to Greece are, for the most part, well aware of the risks that travelling to Europe may entail; while less than half of the children interviewed in Italy say they have considered the risks of traveling before leaving (43%). This means that in many cases, children leave their country of origin with little preparation and minimal awareness of the risks of the journey. In cases where children considered the possible risks before leaving (47 per cent), the level of awareness is rather high. Among of the most common fears are “the chance to be killed along the way” (42 per cent) or “to die in the sea” (30 per cent). According to researchers, these findings offer "a clear perception of the level of determination and feeling of emergency that characterizes the decision to leave one’s country of origin."

The journey to Italy is not easy, and, on average, the children who went on this journey took a year and two months to complete it, from the moment they left their country of origin to their arrival on the Italian coasts. On average, the journey to Greece is much shorter. The journey of minors coming from Gambia and Guinea Conakry took longer than that of minors coming from other countries such as Nigeria.

Duration is often linked to distance, but also to the need for minors to work to finance the journey and hence their degree of exposure to different forms of exploitation. During the journey, most of the children traveling along the Central Mediterranean route have been forced to work in transit countries such as Niger, Algeria or Libya, more than often in extremely harsh conditions. "Almost unanimously - the report states - the children hosted in Italy spoke of the time spent in Libya as the most traumatic part of the entire journey, after crossing the "Canal of Sicily ". Nearly half of them (47 per cent ) reported being kidnapped and, a minor in four (23 per cent ) reported having been arbitrarily arrested and held in prison without charge", and" some minor children (63 per cent ) who had hoped to stay in Libya decided to leave for Italy because terrified by the state of generalized violence." Even minors hosted in Greece have been exposed to numerous risks, including violence and exploitation.

But problems do not end with landing in Italy. A factor that often has destabilizing consequences is the excessive bureaucratic slowdown in reception procedures, in particular the lack of clarity regarding access to documents and legal means to continue the journey. Many children abandon the Italian and Greek reception centers to continue their journeys irregularly "and try their luck elsewhere" On the other hand, the number of relocations, repatriations and family reunions (the most urgent procedure) are minimal; reason why many decide to flee.

In fact, of 25,846 unaccompanied foreign minors arriving by sea in Italy in 2016, only 17,373 were present in the Italian reception system at the end of the year. In Greece, the number of children who have left the country irregularly since the closing of the Balkan route is unknown. While both humanitarian organizations and Greek authorities have confirmed a significant reduction in the total number of refugees and migrants in the country since then, implicitly suggesting, however, that many, including children, have left the country irregularly.

Truth is that, overall, children outside reception facilities and those who seek to reach other places irregularly are often at risk of abuse and exploitation as they live in precarious shelters and have limited access to food, water and financial resources to continue their journey.

"In Italy," reads the report, "children in transit to cities such as Rome, Ventimiglia and Como find themselves living in unsafe places, sometimes sleeping under bridges and without regular access to groceries. In Greece, cases of child prostitution among migrants are increasing as a mean to find the resources needed to fund their journey to other parts of Europe."

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 18:19
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