The photo shows a child at a hosting center in Zawiya, Libya. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi
The photo shows a child at a hosting center in Zawiya, Libya. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi

Migrants aged 24 and younger are significantly more likely to experience abuse and exploitation, a new report shows. "We were just like slaves," a teen from Gambia is quoted saying of his experience in Libya.

A report just published by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) denounces the widespread human rights abuses suffered by young migrants during their crossing to reach Europe. 


According to the Harrowing Journeys report, 77% of teens aged 14 to 17 and young migrants aged 18 to 24 who travelled along the central Mediterranean route reported direct experiences of abuse, exploitation and practices that could imply human trafficking. Migrant children and youths were significantly more exposed to exploitation and trafficking compared to adults aged 25 and older, according to the report. 

High rates of abuse

The percentage of people who reported abuses along the eastern Mediterranean route was close to twice as high among those younger than 25 (17% against 10%) and was also significantly higher along the central Mediterranean route (77% against 69%).

The document is based on the testimonies of some 22,000 migrants and refugees, including 11,000 children and youths interviewed by IOM. It also highlighted that children hailing from sub-Saharan Africa were more likely to be exploited, likely due to racism - 65% compared to 15% along the eastern Mediterranean route and 83% compared to 56% along the central Mediterranean route.

Children and youths who travelled alone or for long periods of time, along with those with a lower education level, were also more vulnerable to exploitation. 

The Central Mediterranean route is particularly dangerous, according to the report: the majority of migrants who crossed through Libya reported falling victim to crimes and militias. Youths paid between 1,000 and 5,000 dollars per trip on average and often arrived in Europe in debt, which exposed them to further risks, the report states.

 'We were just like slaves'

''If you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat you'', the study quotes an 16-year-old unaccompanied teen from Gambia saying. The teen claimed he was forced to work in dire conditions by traffickers in Libya. ''We were just like slaves. At the end of the day, they locked you up'', he told the IOM. 

''The stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against'', said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe. ''EU leaders should put in place lasting solutions that include safe and legal migration pathways, establishing protection corridors and finding alternatives to the detention of migrant children.'' 

''For people who leave their countries to escape violence, instability or poverty, the factors pushing them to migrate are severe and they make perilous journeys knowing that they may be forced to pay with their dignity, their wellbeing or even their lives'', said Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM's Regional Director for the EU, Norway and Switzerland.''Without the establishment of more regular migration pathways, other measures will be relatively ineffective. We must also re-invigorate a rights-based approach to migration, improving mechanisms to identify and protect the most vulnerable throughout the migration process, regardless of their legal status''.