At least 200 children have died this year on the central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy, an average of over one per day, according to UNICEF.
Moreover, between 1 January and 23 May 2017, over 45,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Italy via sea, a 44% increase compared to the same period last year. This figure also includes about 5,500 unaccompanied minors, a 22% rise on the previous year and around 92% of all the children who have arrived this year in Italy via the central Mediterranean route, according to figures released by UNICEF.
On 25 May, the international children support organization conducted an initiative on Palermo’s Sant’Erasmo beach entitled ‘Barchette in Mare, Non Per Gioco’ (‘Boats at Sea, But Not For Fun’) and Pietro Bartolo, a doctor from lampedusa, was appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth noted that last year a record-high 26,000 unaccompanied children had arrived in Italy and that if the current trend continues, the number will be much higher this year, calling it a warning of ”our failure”.
”Since January, at least 36,000 refugees and migrants rescued have been transferred to Sicily, where the G7 will be held,” noted Paolo Rozera, UNICEF general director for Italy. ”Today, to convey the precariousness of the journey, we had children set 800 paper boats afloat that they later brought back to land. This is a humanitarian disaster. The Mediterranean has always been a sea of civilization and now it is a graveyard.”
A young refugee named Favour who is currently hosted by the local community was the one to give Dr Bartolo the plaque naming him ‘Goodwill Ambassador’. ”I hope that this role helps to better influence the decisions of those in control,” Bartolo said.
Among the actions promoted by UNICEF ahead of the G7 to raise awareness against xenophobia is also a video from the #AChildIsAChild campaign, which will be screened on a large screen in Taormina with a message to political leaders.