More than 11,600 children crossed the Central Mediterranean Sea to Italy without their parents or legal guardians between January and mid-September 2023, UNICEF said in a statement issued on Friday.
When compared to the same time period in 2017, when 7,200 unaccompanied or separated children attempted the risky trip, this represents a 60% rise.
The small island of Lampedusa in southern Italy is frequently the first stop for individuals traveling to Europe in search of safety, opportunity, and refuge. This month saw the highest number of arrivals yet, with 4,800 individuals arriving on a single day.
Children who make these perilous excursions alone are sometimes put in overcrowded inflatable dinghies or flimsy wooden fishing boats that aren't equipped for bad weather. Some are put on iron barges, which are extremely hazardous for navigation, while others are put in the ship's hold. The risks that children face when crossing are exacerbated by the lack of appropriate, coordinated, and regionally-wide search and rescue capabilities and cooperation at sea upon embarkation.
Children leaving their native nations on their own are frequently motivated by war, conflict, violence, and poverty. The likelihood of exploitation and abuse for unaccompanied minors is high at every stage of their trips, with girls and minors from sub-Saharan Africa being the most frequently abused.
At least 990 individuals, including children, died or vanished trying to cross the Central Mediterranean Sea between June and August of this year, which is three times as many as the 334 who perished within the same time frame last year. The actual number of deaths is probably far greater because many shipwrecks leave no survivors and many fail to be reported.