In the past week, two reports have highlighted the dangers faced by refugees and migrants on their route to Europe. A report by UNICEF highlights the dangers faced by women and children on the route from North Africa to Italy. A report by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) highlights the desperate situation of many Eritrean refugees, criticising the EU for creating policies to keep them out, along with other migrants and refugees.
The MSF report, titled “Dying to Reach Europe: Insight into the desperate journeys Eritreans make to reach safety”, is based on 106 in-depth interviews, as well as hundreds of conversations, with Eritreans that have fled their country. They flee the culture of fear and persecution, as well as the indefinite military service – which amounts to slavery-like practices, according to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea; the same commission that determined last year that crimes against humanity have been committed and are continuing to be committed by authorities in Eritrea.
The report reveals shocking experiences. MSF reports that every Eritrean that they spoke to has either directly experienced or has witnessed severe violence on several occasions in their journey. Every women as either experienced or knows someone that has experienced rape. Every Eritrean has reported being held in detention in some form during their journey, and over half have witnessed the deaths of fellow refugees. The testimonies of the refugees are supported by their physical and mental condition; MSF reports wounds and heavy scarring as well as severe mental illnesses.
MSF criticises the EU’s approach to managing migration. Despite recognizing the plight of Eritreans, as evidenced by the high percentage of accepted asylum claims, the EU is doing everything to keep them and other refugees and migrants out, MSF says. The EU’s unwillingness to provide legal ways to come to Europe, combined with their increased focus on externalising border protection and detention, leaves the Eritrean refugees no choice but to choose dangerous routes. They cannot go back to Eritrea for fear of arrest and/or ill-treatment.
UNICEF comes to similar conclusions in their report, titled “A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migrant Route”. The report highlights the dangers, mainly for children, along the route from sub-Saharan Africa to Libya, and then to Italy. Again, shockingly high numbers report experiencing violence and aggression – over three-quarters of those interviewed. Nearly half of the women and children interviewed reported sexual abuse, often on multiple occasions.
UNICEF also calls for legal pathways of migration, as stated by UNICEF Regional Director Afshan Khan: “We need safe and legal pathways and safeguards to protect migrating children that keep them safe and keep predators at bay.” UNICEF has created a six-point action plan, which includes protection of children, keeping families together and ending detention. They urge the EU to support this agenda.