More than three-quarters (77%) of children and young people travelling along Mediterranean migrant routes have reported direct experiences of abuse, exploitation and practices which may amount to human trafficking, according to a report from Unicef and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
A new study from the two agencies found that while all migrants face a high risk of abuse, children and young people fleeing to Europe from the Middle East and Africa are far more likely to be exploited than adults aged 25 years and above: nearly twice as likely on the Eastern Mediterranean route, and at a 13% higher rate on the Central Mediterranean route.
The report was based on the results of a survey, conducted in early 2017, that collected the testimony of some 22,000 refugees, and found that 91% of the children and young people questioned reported suffering some form of abuse that might constitute human trafficking during their travels.
At a migrant shelter in Italy, a 16-year-old unaccompanied child from the Gambia told researchers how he was forced into months of manual labour by traffickers when he arrived in Libya.
“If you try to run, they shoot you,” Aimamo said.
“If you stop working, they beat you. We were just like slaves. At the end of the day, they just lock you inside.”
Eugenio Ambrosi, the IOM’s Regional Director for the EU, Norway and Switzerland, commented: “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.
“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.”
Separately, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has told the European Parliament that illegal immigration managed by mafias is “a new form of slavery”.
EURACTIV Spain reports that Mogherini used a parliamentary debate to call for a greater understanding of the “root causes” that drive people to risk their lives travelling to Europe in search of a better life.
“I have heard terrible stories of detention centres in Libya, women, and men marked as animals,” she said.
“It is not a tragedy that should be ignored or minimized.”
An earlier report from Unicef released in May warned that people smugglers were taking advantage of a record rise in the number of child migrants travelling alone.
Noting it had recorded an estimated 300,000 lone migrant minors across 80 countries in 2015-16, the NGO said many have no choice but to live in appalling conditions and are often forced into prostitution or petty crime to raise money to pay people smugglers for their onward travel.