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289 children died first half of 2023 trying to cross Mediterranean Sea to Europe -UNICEF

The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, said Friday nearly 289 children are known to have died in the first half of 2023 while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, a figure doubled that recorded in the first six months of 2022.

UNICEF said in a press release the number of deaths is equated to nearly 11 children “dying or disappearing every week as they search for safety, peace and better opportunities.”

Verena Knaus, UNICEF’s global lead on migration and displacement, said the true figures were likely to be higher as many shipwrecks on the central Mediterranean leave no survivors or go unrecorded.

“The number of children who have lost their lives while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe has doubled in the first half of this year, compared to the same period last year,” she said; adding, “these deaths are absolutely preventable.”

Knaus said that many children were making the journey unaccompanied over several months to reach the shores of Libya or Tunisia in North Africa, from countries like Guinea, Senegal, The Gambia, Syria and Afghanistan.

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The UN children’s agency estimates 11,600 children — an average of 428 children a week — arrived on the shores of Italy from North Africa since January 2023.

And in the first three months of 2023, around 3,300 children, which is 71% of all children arriving in Europe on the central Mediterranean route, were recorded as unaccompanied or separated.

The figure is three times higher than in the same period last year.

“In attempts to find safety, reunite with family, and seek more hopeful future, too many children are boarding boats on the shores of the Mediterranean, only to lose their lives or go missing on the way,” said UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell, who advocates creating “safe and legal pathways for children to access asylum, while strengthening efforts to rescue lives at sea.”

“Ultimately, much more must be done to address the root causes that make children risk their lives in the first place,” Russell added.

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