The European sea rescue organization SOS Mediterranee says a growing proportion of migrants picked up at sea are under 18 and traveling alone. The journey across the Mediterranean is especially dangerous for children, according to the NGO.
The percentage of unaccompanied minors (migrants under the age of 18 traveling without a parent or guardian) has increased from 19% in 2016 to 25% in 2020, according to SOS Mediterranee spokesperson in Germany, Petra Krischok.
SOS Mediterranee says it has rescued nearly 31,800 people, including 7,150 minors, from the Mediterranean in around five years.
The journey is especially dangerous for children, according to SOS Mediterranee. Many of them suffer violence and exploitation, and they often go hungry.
The long distance of some 400 kilometers between the coast of Libya and Italy contributes to a high death rate, the organization adds.
This year, Italian authorities have registered around 4,270 unaccompanied minors arriving by boat, according to the news agency dpa. The number for the whole of 2019 was 1,680.
Few rescue ships
SOS Mediterranee has operated the rescue boat "Ocean Viking" since July 2019, and the "Aquarius" before that, from 2016 to 2018.
There are currently very few search and rescue vessels operating in the Mediterranean, however. The Ocean Viking has been held in Sicily since the end of July, Krischok explained.
"There is almost no one there who can carry out rescues," she said.
The organization is calling for an official European maritime rescue authority and an end to EU cooperation with Libyan authorities.
EU funds partly go towards training the Libyan coastguard. In 2020, the coastguard returned around 11,000 migrants to Libya, where they were subjected to violence and exploitation, according to the UN migration agency, IOM.