UNITED NATIONS — The number of children traveling by themselves among documented refugees and migrants has nearly quintupled to the highest on record, and many of them are at risk from smugglers, sex traffickers and other predators, the United Nations said in a report published on Wednesday.
The report said the findings amounted to an alarming international lapse in providing basic safety and security for the world’s most vulnerable people.
“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that,” said Justin Forsyth, the deputy executive director of Unicef. “We as adults are failing to protect them.”
At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in 80 countries in 2015 and 2016 combined, compared with 66,000 in 2010 and 2011, the report said.
The 300,000 figure included 170,000 children who had applied for asylum in Europe and 100,000 who had been detained at the border between Mexico and the United States.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Forsyth said the report documented not only a rapid rise in the number of unaccompanied children but also “a lot more abuse” by traffickers and members of organized crime who exploit them.
He also said the numbers in the report understated the problem because they reflected only children found among registered populations of refugees and migrants.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Many children who never register fall into the hands of smugglers. The real number is much bigger. We lack an enormous amount of data.”
Mr. Forsyth said the release of the report was timed to come ahead of the Group of 7 summit meeting on May 26 and 27 in Taormina, Sicily, where the refugee and migrant crisis will be an important topic.
Italy has been the principal entry point for refugees and migrants making the treacherous Mediterranean crossing from Africa, and the United Nations report said roughly 90 percent of children undertaking that voyage were traveling alone — mostly from Egypt, Eritrea, Gambia, Guinea and Nigeria.
The report urged the Group of 7 participants, which will include President Trump, to strengthen protections for child refugees, including by ending their detention at border crossings, finding ways to keep families together and combating the “discrimination, xenophobia and stigma” that often victimizes uprooted children.
(C) 2017 The New York Times