migrant child rescued

A woman carries a child as migrants rescued in the Mediterranean disembark from the Sea Watch NGO's ship on February 27, 2020 in the port of Messina, Sicily in Italy.

(Photo: Giovanni Isolino/AFP via Getty Images)

At Least 289 Children Have Drowned Trying to Reach Europe This Year: UNICEF

"Children are dying not just in front of our eyes; they are dying while we seem to keep our eyes closed," laments one UNICEF official. "Hundreds of girls and boys are drowning in the world's inaction."

Roughly twice as many migrant children died crossing the Mediterranean Sea during the first half of this year as during the same period in 2022, the United Nations Children's Fund reported Friday.

In a sobering update, UNICEF said at least 289 children drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Africa into Europe during the first six months of 2023.

That's the equivalent of about 11 children per week, which is "far beyond what we hear in news headlines," according to UNICEF Global Lead on Migration and Displacement Vera Knaus.

"We cannot continue to ignore what is happening [and] stand by silently when nearly 300 children—an entire plane full of children—are dying in the waters between Europe and Africa in just six months," Knaus said. "Children are dying not just in front of our eyes; they are dying while we seem to keep our eyes closed. Hundreds of girls and boys are drowning in the world's inaction."

Approximately 11,600 children crossed the Mediterranean between January and June, UNICEF said. Many of them undertook the perilous journey without parents or guardians—the agency said 3,300 unaccompanied or separated children arrived in Europe during just the first three months of this year.

"This is three times higher than the number in the same period last year," Knaus noted. "Girls traveling alone are especially likely to experience violence before, during, and after their journeys."

UNICEF warned that "the true number of child casualties is likely to be higher as many shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean leave no survivors or go unrecorded."

Knaus stressed that "these deaths are preventable."

"They are as much driven by the complex emergencies, conflicts, and climate risks that drive children from their homes as by the lack of political and practical action to do what it takes to enable safe access to asylum and to protect the rights and lives of children wherever they come from and whatever their mode of travel," she added.

The U.N.'s International Office for Migration said in April that 441 migrants of all ages drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean in the first three months of 2023 alone, the deadliest quarter since 2017.

Recent incidents include the drowning deaths of at least 79 migrants aboard an overloaded fishing vessel that capsized off the southwestern coast of Greece last month. More than 500 people remain missing and are presumed dead.

An analysis published earlier this week by media outlets and the Berlin-based research agency Forensis suggests the Greek coast guard's efforts to tow the vessel caused it to capsize and sink.

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