ROME (SE): Children account for one half of all refugees in the world today, an appeal from Caritas calling for proper protection to be accorded to them says.
The appeal, released on March 14, quotes Maria Amparo Alonso Escobar, from the Caritas Delegation at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, as saying, “Many children have been made to travel alone as refugees or economic migrants. They face a great risk from human traffickers and sexual predators. Their voices often go unheard and their needs are forgotten or ignored.”
Conflicts, civil unrest and lack of economic opportunities in the Middle East, Asia and Africa has seen a marked increase in the flow of refugees and economic migrants to the European Union.
Caritas says the need to protect and welcome children is urgent. It has found that in some countries, emigration is becoming almost obligatory for the young generation, which is growing up with the sole prospect of trying to get to Europe.
On March 15, at a parallel event to the 34th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Caritas joined with the International Catholic Migration Commission and the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the UN, to examine why more lone children are on the move and the impact on them.
The parallel event ran under the name of Unaccompanied Children on the Move: Preserving their Dignity and Rights was addressed by Father Fabio Baggio and Father Michael Czerny, the under-secretaries to the dicastery of the Holy See specialising in refugees and migration.
Elisa Manna, from Caritas Roma, shared her direct experience of the challenges posed by the continually rising number of child refugees and migrants. Caritas runs three reception centres where children stay for around 50 days and two accommodation centres where they are supported until they are 18 in Rome.
In 2016, it cared for 375 unaccompanied minors, 96 per cent of whom were from Egypt, Albania and Gambia. Their average age was 16, but just over 10 per cent of the children were aged between 11 and 14.
Twenty per cent of them explained that they were either orphans or had untraceable parents, many had little schooling and most said their parents were labourers, farmers or had no job.
The girls among them reported continual sexual exploitation by human traffickers.