A third of migrants sailing to Greece from Turkey are children: UNICEF

A third of migrants sailing to Greece from Turkey are children: UNICEF

GENEVA – Agence France-Presse
A third of migrants sailing to Greece from Turkey are children: UNICEF

AFP photo

Children now make up over a third of the migrants making the perilous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece, the U.N. said.

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, according to U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

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 to Europe by risking their life and limb to reach its shores last year.

“Children currently account for 36 percent of those risking the treacherous sea crossing between Greece and Turkey,” the UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crowe said on Feb. 2.  

“Children and women on the move now make up nearly 60 percent” of those entering from Macedonia, she added.  

The figures mark a significant shift since June 2015, when 73 percent of migrants 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.” 

Every fifth migrant drowned in January between Turkey-Greece a child

Underlining her point, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Feb. 2 that one in every five who drowned last month while trying to sail from Turkey to Greece was a child, with minors accounting for 60 of the 272 deaths.

Including during January, a total of 330 children have died in those waters over the past five months, many of them just meters from shore, the organization said.

The drownings continue a grim trend that accelerated last year when nearly 4,000 people died trying to reach Europe by sea.

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 Turkey’s resort town of Bodrum, horrifying the international community.

The EU on Feb. 2 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.

62,000 migrants entered Greece in January alone

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 Jan. 31 that youngsters arriving alone were particularly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and trafficking.

More than 10,000 unaccompanied children registered after arriving in Europe over the past 18 months to two years had disappeared, the EU’s law enforcement agency said.

Speaking to AFP on Feb. 1, UNICEF’s Crowe said European mechanisms for protecting children had not worked.  

This “is really a failure of child protection systems across the region”, she said.

“Procedures need to be a lot faster and children need to be part of that process so they don’t fall through the cracks and they do not fall prey to smugglers and traffickers.”