The number of Syrians clandestinely crossing the Mediterranean has risen dramatically since March, with thousands more families likely to attempt the dangerous passage this summer, as the “boat season” gets underway, according to Save the Children’s latest report, “The boat is safe” and other lies: why Syrian families are risking everything to reach Europe.

The report tells the harrowing stories of families who survived the journey to Italy. The sea passage is facilitated by people smugglers, charging families between US$1,500 and US$3,000 to travel on dilapidated and makeshift boats. The journey can take up to 15 days and survivors describe extreme conditions, frightening close calls, having no or very little food and water and desperate waits to be rescued when things go wrong. Not all are rescued in time.

 “No child forced to flee violence and persecution should then have to risk his or her life on this perilous sea crossing,” Justin Forsyth, Save the Children CEO said.

“Today's Summit on Migration Policy presents a unique opportunity to stop children drowning in a desperate attempt to reach safety. This is one of biggest moral challenges of our lifetime."

At least a sixth of those who attempt the sea journey from Africa and elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin – are children: of the 41,200 migrants the Italian Navy rescued between January and May 2014, 6,700 were minors.

Eritrean and Syrian children are the largest group arriving by sea. By the end of May, Italian authorities had rescued over 3,800 children from the two countries, some of them very young – tragically highlighted when the Italian Navy recovered, among others, the bodies of a baby and a very young child when a boat capsized off the Libyan coast in May.

Eritrean children, also fleeing persecution in their home country, predominantly travel on their own, and are usually in their teens. The average age of Syrian children undertaking this journey is five who, for the vast majority, travelled with their parents. Both groups of minors need appropriate care.

The number of Syrian refugees crossing clandestinely into Italy started rising in July 2013, when more Syrians arrived in Italy than during the whole of 2012. This trend peaked last September, with more than 4,100 new Syrian arrivals, of whom more than 1,400 were children. While numbers declined during the winter months, they have been going up consistently since April, when around 16,700 migrants were rescued, including 2,300 Syrians. Thousands of Syrian and other children are expected to follow suit throughout this summer.

The numbers of people fleeing violence and war is now higher than it has ever been since the end of World War II, and half of the world’s refugees are children.

Developing countries continue to host the vast majority, with millions living in overcrowded or squalid camp conditions. To ensure these children have a chance at a better future, especially the most vulnerable – such as the injured and sick – and prevent further loss of life in the Mediterranean over the summer, EU states must play their part to provide protection to families in desperate need of sanctuary, Save the Children said.

At the EU summit starting today, which is expected to make key decisions on migration, Save the Children is calling on EU leaders to: 

  • Strengthen the search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean, to ensure that migrants and refugees do not lose their lives when crossing the sea. EU States must ensure that Italy and northern Mediterranean countries are not left to manage this burden alone;
  • Following the example of countries like Germany, increase the number of Syrian refugees being resettled in Europe through legal channels, according to the criteria and needs identified by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees;
  • Put an end to the detention of children on immigration grounds. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has made clear that the detention of a child because of their parents' migration or residence status is always a child rights violation, and can never be in the best interest of the child;
  • Aside from resettlement, ensure other legal avenues to access international protection in the EU, so that some of the most vulnerable and most at risk of violence and persecution can be considered for asylum without risking their lives coming to Europe.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.