European authorities should enhance the safety of people escaping conflict and despair, UN agencies have said.
The call came after it emerged that each day at least children drown in the Mediterranean Sea as their families try to cross to Europe.
Since last September, when the tragic death of toddler Aylan Kurdi captured the world’s attention, more than 340 children, many of them babies and toddlers, have drowned in the eastern Mediterranean.
The agencies believe that the total number of children who have died may be even greater.
“We cannot turn our faces away from the tragedy of so many innocent young lives and futures lost – or fail to address the dangers so many more children are facing,” said Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We may not have the ability now to end the desperation that causes so many people to try to cross the sea, but countries can and must cooperate to make such dangerous journeys safer. No one puts a child in a boat if a safer option is available.”
According to the UN agencies, the stretch of the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece is among the deadliest routes in the world for refugees and migrants.
“These tragic deaths in the Mediterranean are unbearable and must stop,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “Clearly, more efforts are needed to combat smuggling and trafficking.”
Observing that many children and adults died while trying to join relatives in Europe, Mr Grandi urged the European authorities to organize “ways for people to travel legally and safely.”
He added that “resettlement and family reunion programmes for example, should be an absolute priority if we want to reduce the death toll.”
Children account for 36 per cent of those on the move, so the chance of them drowning on the Aegean Sea crossing from Turkey to Greece has grown proportionately.
“Counting lives is not enough. We must act,” said William Lacy Swing, IOM’s Director General in Geneva. “This is not only a Mediterranean problem, or even a European one. It is a humanitarian catastrophe in the making that demands the entire world’s engagement.”