By Ilker Girit
More than two-thirds of migrant children and youths trying to reach Europe from Africa have faced human rights abuses, UN research revealed on Tuesday.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said 77 percent of those traveling along the Central Mediterranean route had "direct experiences of abuse, exploitation, and practices which may amount to human trafficking."
"While all migrants and refugees are at high risk, children and youth on the move are far more likely to experience exploitation and trafficking than adults aged 25 years and above," a report summary stated.
Afshan Khan, UNICEF's Europe director for refugees, said that it is "now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against."
Khan also urged European leaders to act against obvious abuses and find alternatives to stop the humanitarian crisis.
"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," she added.
International Organization for Migration (IOM) regional director for EU, Eugenio Ambrosi, also claimed that alternative measures would be ineffective "without the establishment of more regular migration pathways".
The report, which is based on the testimonies of nearly 22,000 migrants -- some 11,000 children and youths -- also included statements from some of those trying to reach Europe.
"If you try to run, they shoot you. If you stop working, they beat you. We were just like slaves. At the end of the day, they just lock you inside," Aimamo, a 16-year-old child from the Gambia, said.
Aimamo, who was interviewed at a shelter in Italy, described "being forced into months of grueling manual labor by traffickers upon his arrival in Libya," the report said.
Another migrant from the Gambia, 17-year-old Sanna, was willing to take work in Libya to earn the money he needed to pass to Italy.
“But the Libyans sometimes refused to pay us [...] and if we discussed it with them, they would bring a gun. You cannot do anything. We were like slaves," Sanna was quoted as saying.
The Central Mediterranean route was labeled as "particularly dangerous" with most of the migrants passing through Libya, which "remains riven with lawlessness, militias and criminality".