IOM UK hosted event on the trafficking and exploitation risks faced by children and youth on the move to Europe

To mark Anti-Slavery Day in 2017, IOM UK hosted an event drawing on the findings of the IOM and UNICEF joint report ‘Harrowing Journeys’ launched in September 2017. The event brought together speakers from IOM, UNICEF UK and the Rt Hon Fiona Mactaggart, former co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on human trafficking. The event was moderated by Lucy Lamble, Associate Editor for Global Development at The Guardian.

Harrowing Journeys shows that 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.

The report also highlights that travelling on the Central Mediterranean route is particularly dangerous, with most of the migrants and refugees passing through Libya where state institutions are weak and lawlessness and violence widespread.

Alieu, 17, who travelled through Libya on his journey from the Gambia to Italy, where he is seeking asylum, described shockingly pervasive violence: “Everybody has a gun,” he says, “Small boys – that’s what really surprised me – old men. Everybody has an AK-47. "

“The lack of safe and regular migration pathways heightens the risk of trafficking and exploitation for children and youth on the move” said Irina Todorova, Senior Regional Migrant Assistance Specialist (Counter-Trafficking and Child Protection), IOM Regional Office for the EU, Norway and Switzerland.

UNICEF has been gathering evidence to support the protection of children which shows that perpetrators benefit from the existing flaws in the system. “Safer legal routes mean smugglers and traffickers have fewer opportunities to exploit children.” said Stefan Stoyanov, Senior Policy and Advocacy Adviser (Trafficking and Exploitation), UNICEF UK.

Children who are alone and seeking sanctuary are always vulnerable and at high risk of abuse and exploitation. The narrowing of legal channels to the UK pushes these children into the hands of traffickers. The Dubs scheme provided a legal route for children to come and live safely in the UK. However, the chaotic manner in which it was enacted on the ground has created a lack of trust in official pathways resulting in children putting themselves at harm and turning to criminals to help them make their journeys to Europe.

Discussions during the Q&A session focussed on practical steps the Home Office and Police can take to support children following the trauma of their journeys and the exploitation and abuse they have faced. Frontline professionals with a duty of care who encounter children called for safeguards to be guaranteed in existing procedures, to ensure that children are protected.

“A child is a child and we all have a responsibility to protect them.” said the Rt Hon Fiona Mactaggart.

The report findings emphasise the urgent need for action to protect those most vulnerable on the move. These include establishing safe and regular pathways for children on the move; strengthening services to protect migrant and refugee children whether in countries of origin, transit or destination; finding alternatives to the detention of children on the move; working across borders to combat trafficking and exploitation; and combatting xenophobia, racism and discrimination against all migrants and refugees.

Children and youth are at the heart of IOM’s global mandate on migration. IOM will continue to provide protection and assistance to migrant children and youth, especially unaccompanied and separated children and youth.

To read the full report please click on the following link:

https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/press_release/file/Harrowing_Journeys_Children_and_youth_on_the_move_across_the_Mediterranean.pdf

For further information, please contact Catherine Cullen on ccullen@iom.int or 0207 811 6077.

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