A Journal of People report
Almost 26,000 children made dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in 2016, and nine out of 10 of these children were unaccompanied, said a new report by UNICEF.
The figure is double the number of children who crossed the Mediterranean in 2015. The fact points to a spike in the number of unaccompanied children attempting to enter Europe from North Africa, mostly via Libya.
The UNICEF report A Deadly Journey for Children found that three-quarters of migrant children said they had experienced violence, harassment or abuse from adults.
The report is based on interviews with women and children in Libya. The migrants came from 11 different countries, and some of the children interviewed were actually born in Libya during their mother’s migration. The report details violence, harassment and aggression suffered by children at the hands of adults over the course of their journey.
Around 256,000 migrants including 30,803 women and 23,102 children were recorded in Libya at the end of January – a third of whom were unaccompanied. However, UNICEF estimates the real figures to be at least three times higher.
Many children reported being sexually abused in Libya, which has become a hub for human trafficking in the absence of a stable government.
Nearly half of the 122 women and children interviewed reported sexual abuse during migration – often multiple times and in multiple locations.
The report gave a shocking insight into conditions in migrant detention centers in Libya.
According to UNICEF, there are an estimated 34 detention centers in Libya, but only 24 of them, holding between 4,000 and 7,000 detainees, are run by Libyan government. The unknown numbers of unofficial centers are akin to forced labor camps, which are run by criminal gangs with links to smugglers and armed militias. In both official and unofficial centers, women and children reported harsh and overcrowded conditions including lack of nutritious food and adequate shelter. Women reported a lack of food and sanitation in the centers while massive overcrowding was common: up to 20 migrants were often held in cells no bigger than two square meters.
Interviewees also reported systematic sexual abuse, particularly at border crossings and checkpoints. Women were often expected to provide sexual services or pay their way across the Libyan border.
Over one-third of women and children said that their assailants were in uniform, which likely increased their fear of reporting the abuse. Male migrants also experienced sexual abuse.
There were more than 181,000 illegal border crossings into Europe on the Central Mediterranean route — from Libya to Italy — in 2016, according to Frontex, the EU border agency, and a similar number are expected in 2017.
More than 10,000 migrants have arrived in Italy already in 2017, and there have been 326 deaths on the route, according to the International Organization of Migration.
The bodies of 74 migrants washed up on Libya’s western coastline last week, and rescuers believed that more bodies were lost at sea.
Since the EU deal with Turkey largely closed the route to Greece, the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy has become the primary entry point to Europe, followed by the western Mediterranean route from Morocco and Algeria to Spain. The Libya-Italy route is the deadliest and most dangerous one. In 2016 more than 4,500 people – of whom at least 700 were children – died attempting to make the crossing, the deadliest year on record.
The situation remains critical. Almost 2,000 people made the crossing in the last week of January alone, more than eight times the number of people attempting the journey in the same period the previous year. An estimated 228 deaths were reported so far in 2017 − one in 21 migrants in January, compared to one in 24 in December 2016, and one in 41 for the entire year 2016. According to UNICEF, more that 40 children died in January alone.
Smugglers demand to be paid at the beginning of the journey, leaving many with debts to pay under “pay as you go” arrangements and vulnerable to exploitation, abduction and abuse. The provision of safe and legal pathways would deprive smugglers from the exclusive control of the route to Europe.
Women and children were often arrested at the Libyan border where they experienced abuse, extortion and gender-based violence.
Men were often threatened or killed if they intervened to prevent sexual violence.
Children did not receive any preferential treatment and were often placed in cells together with adult detainees, which increased the risk of abuse, according to the UNICEF report. Some observers have also reported abandoned refugee children in detention centers and hospitals.
Jon, Aza, Kamis
Fifteen-year-old Jon is one of the unaccompanied minors held in Libya. The teenager was escaping Boko Haram’s violence in Nigeria: “In Nigeria there is Boko Haram, there is death. I did not want to die. I was afraid,” he told UNICEF.
He has been in detention for seven months. “Here they treat us like chickens. They beat us, they do not give us good water and good food. They harass us. So many people are dying here, dying from disease, freezing to death,” he said.
Aza and her daughter Kamis, a nine-year-old who wants to be a doctor, also travelled to Libya from Nigeria, hoping to reach Italy as their final destination.
Aza said she did not know the journey would be so dangerous and only fully realized the risk when facing the sea. By that point, however, there was no going back. “I paid $1,400 for that trip. If I had decided not to leave, no one would have returned the money to me. I have done all this for my children and for their future, and I did not want to lose them. During our time at sea I thought: If it’s me, it is OK [to die] but not them,” she told UNICEF.
Kamis was detained in a center in Sabratha in western Libya for five months and remains in detention. “There was no food and no water. In Sabratha, they used to beat us every day… A little baby was sick but there was no doctor on site to care for her. That place was very sad,” she said. (Kamis’ name was changed to protect her identity.)
Spend time together
Media recently reported about Bill Gates and Warren Buffetts. The report told about happiness and children.
The two rich persons are worth $86.4 billion (Bill) and $76.8 billion (Buffetts) respectively. The two friends have the same definition of success, and it’s one that has nothing to do with wealth.
In a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything session, Gates replies to the question, “What is your idea of success?” by citing his friend: “Warren Buffett has always said the measure is whether the people close to you are happy and love you.”
At 61, Gates prioritizes making time for family.
“I just went on a trip with my 17-year-old son to see six colleges,” says Gates. “He is a junior in high school and trying to figure out where he should go. Trips like that have been a great way to spend time together.”
When in public with his three children, Gates says he sometimes disguises himself a bit in order to remain inconspicuous.
“For example, when I did college tours with my son, I wanted the focus to be totally on him,” says Gates. “A lot less people recognize me when I have a hat on or else they realize I am trying to be incognito.”
Gates, an avid reader, also says that he takes book recommendations from his son.
Even billionaire business magnates appreciate the routine moments with family. “Melinda is very creative about helping me find chances to spend time with the kids. Even just driving them to school is a great time to talk to them,” says Gates.
He admits that he hopes to become a grandfather.
Gates says he still considers his work at Microsoft to be the most important of his lifetime, more vital even than his philanthropic endeavors.