Tuesday

12th Nov 2019

Migrant children endure horrors in Libya and Italy

  • Fourteen-year-old Issaa, a migrant from Niger, rests his hand on a gate inside a detention centre, in Libya, Saturday 28 January 2017 (Photo: © UNICEF/Romenzi)

The UN's children's fund, Unicef, has said minors face shocking abuse in Libya and risk vanishing into crime and prostitution in Europe.

The Unicef report, out on Tuesday (28 February), said more and more children are arriving in Italy alone and required better protection to prevent them falling into the hands of criminals.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • A migrant looks out from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, Tuesday 31 January 2017. (Photo: © UNICEF/Romenzi)

In one harrowing case, Unicef's regional director Afshan Khan told reporters ahead of the report's release that a 14-year old girl was forced to work as a prostitute in Libya for two years.

She then tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea with her mother, as part of a bigger group, but their boat overturned.

"Her mother didn't survive and she was clinging to her mother's body until the rescue team came," said Khan.

Over 90 percent of the 29,000 children that arrived in Italy last year came without a parent or other adult guardian.

Khan could not explain the increase in children travelling alone, but said that she met minors from Sierra Leone who had lost their parents to Ebola.

Others had been orphaned by the militant extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, she said.

Unicef noted that many children in Libya end up in one of its 34 detention centres, more than half of which are run by militia groups.

Stories of killings, beatings, rape, and forced labour were commonplace and some children had been detained for years.

Kamis, a nine-year old boy from Nigeria, said he spent five months at the Sabratha detention centre.

"They used to beat us every day. They beat babies, children, and adults," Kamis is cited as saying in the report.

The EU is keen to improve detention conditions in Libya as part of a wider plan to discourage migrants from coming to Europe.

But progress is being held back by instability, with the UN- and EU recognised government in Tripoli in limited control.

Unicef has no access to detention centres that are run by local warlords and their militias.

One official from Libya's interior ministry said some armed groups were so dangerous that police were afraid to approach their migrant camps.

"We have no power over these prisons. We cannot even get close because of risk of being killed," the Libyan official told researcher's behind the Unicef report.

EU plan runs into militias

The Libyan central authorities are also a problem.

An internal European Commission report from January said women were afraid to report crimes to Libyan police in case the police murdered or raped them.

The EU wants the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) to help people in the militia-controlled areas.

But the UNHCR has refused to send ininternational staff for fear of abduction or worse.

Unicef estimated that there were at least 23,000 migrant children in Libya.

It said that not all of them wanted to reach the EU, but that those who did needed help to deal with psychological trauma.

Its report said bureaucratic delays in Italy and fear of deportation prompted many of them to vanish.

“There are about 8,000 kids in Italy who have fallen between the cracks and who are … out of the reach of protective services," said Khan.

Missing children turn to crime

Some have ended up working as prostitutes at Rome's central train station, she said.

Khan said that without proper support, more of them will end up in the hands of criminals or turn to crime to survive.

"We are going to end up dragging kids into criminality,” she said.

Unicef described the Central Mediterranean migrant route as a criminal enterprise that exploited women and children.

"The smugglers and traffickers are winning. This is what happens when there are no safe and legal alternatives [for claiming asylum in Europe],” Unicef's deputy executive director Justin Forsyth said.

The problem of Europe’s missing children is much bigger than just Italy.

The EU police agency in The Hague, Europol, already in early 2015 estimated that 10,000 children had vanished off the map.

Italy said over 6,500 children went missing in the first 10 months of 2016. Germany said it had lost track of almost 9,000 minors.

Recent data compiled by the NGO Missing Children Europe says that eight unaccompanied children are reported missing every week in Sweden alone.

Slovenia estimates that 80 percent of its migrant children disappear.

Belgian liberal MEP Hilde Vautmans is hoping to raise the issue in a plenary debate at the European Parliament.

She said the Commission must be made to deliver on its promises of “action plans” to help Europe’s new and most vulnerable minority.

"We can't accept that children sleep in the streets and are pushed back into the hands of smugglers," she told this website last week.

Erdogan: refugees will enter Europe unless EU does more

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara will "open the doors" for refugees and migrants to enter Europe unless it does more to help. The EU says it won't help Turkey create a so-called "safe zone" in north-east Syria.

Greek migrant hotspot now EU's 'worst rights issue'

The 14,000 migrants trapped on the Greek island of Lesbos has been described as "the single most worrying fundamental rights issue that we are confronting anywhere in the European Union" by the head of the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency.

News in Brief

  1. Belgian asylum centre set on fire
  2. Xi Jingping in Athens promises new investment
  3. Farage's Brexit Party will not stand in Tory-held seats
  4. British founder of Syrian 'White Helmets' found dead
  5. Eight member states ask for EU aviation tax
  6. EU allocates €55m humanitarian aid to Sudan
  7. EU's climate contribution exceeds €20bn annually
  8. EU-Singapore trade deal enters into force this month

Opinion

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. New hearings for the von der Leyen commission This WEEK
  2. Bosnia wants explanation for Macron's 'time-bomb' remark
  3. MEPs slam Commission over common charger delay
  4. Erdogan: refugees will enter Europe unless EU does more
  5. Cleaning up both the EU and Western Balkans
  6. Can Sunday's election end Spain's endless deadlock?
  7. Up to 750 European children trapped in north-east Syria
  8. EU and China agree to defend 'gastronomic jewels'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us