ATHENS / GENEVA, 24 April 2017 – A tragic shipwreck that occurred off the island of Lesvos in the last 24 hours, leading to the drowning of at least two children, adds to the horrible deaths of more than 150 children in the Central Mediterranean and at least 5 children in the Eastern Mediterranean route, since the beginning of the year. One of the drowned children was found in the Greek and one in the Turkish territorial waters. At least fourteen other people lost their lives during the incident, while two women have been rescued.
“This is further evidence that desperate children and their families are taking more dangerous routes due to a lack of safe and legal pathways. Without such pathways, lives will continue to be lost during perilous sea crossings as refugees and migrants seek safety and a better future from conflicts and economic uncertainty,” warned Laurent Chapuis, UNICEF Country Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Greece.
During the first three months of 2017, almost 1,100 children have survived the journey and reached Greek shores. Among the refugees and migrants arriving by sea, the percentage of children shows a steady increase: In January, 22% of the sea arrivals were children. In February, their percentage rose to 28% and in March it reached 31%.
Some of these children have suffered abuse and other forms of violence back in their country of origin. They may have risked further mistreatment and exploitation in the hands of smugglers and traffickers. Instead of risking violence or death, these children should have access to effective schemes of resettlement, humanitarian visas, as well as other legal pathways, guided by the best interests of the child.
Among the children arriving by sea to Greece, some 17% travelled alone, increasing their vulnerability while on the move. UNICEF calls upon States to speed up family reunification procedures and make it easier for children to reunite with their families, including with their extended families in destination countries.