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UN says 125 Europe-bound children rescued off Libyan coast

The majority of the children were sent to detention centres in Libya and the UN is calling for their release
Last week, 130 migrants bound for Europe went missing, and are feared to be dead, after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean.
Last week, 130 migrants bound for Europe went missing and are feared to be dead after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean (AFP)

A total of 125 children were intercepted at sea this week by Libyan authorities off the Mediterranean coast, the United Nations child welfare agency (Unicef) said on Friday, adding that most were brought to detention centres.

The children included 114 unaccompanied minors, Unicef said in a statement, adding that attempts by migrant children to cross the Mediterranean are likely to increase in the months ahead.

"The majority of those rescued are sent to overcrowded detention centers in Libya under extremely difficult conditions and with no or limited access to water and health services. Nearly 1,100 children are in these centres," the UN agency said.

It added that a total of 4,005 migrants and refugees have been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya to detention centres as of 31 March.

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Unicef urged Libyan authorities to release all the children and put an end to immigration detention, and also called on European authorities to support and receive migrants when they reach their shores.

"We call on the Libyan authorities to release all children and end immigration detention. The detention of children in migration contexts is never in the best interest of children," the agency said.

Last year saw an upsurge of makeshift boats attempting to cross the central Mediterranean, the deadliest route for would-be migrants to Europe.

More than 1,400 migrants either died or went missing in 2020 trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean, according to UN data.

At least 350 people, including children and women, have drowned or gone missing in the Central Mediterranean since January, according to the UN, while the International Organisation for Migration has recorded nearly 600 deaths in the entire Mediterranean sea since the beginning of the year.

"The Central Mediterranean continues to be one of the deadliest and most dangerous migration routes in the world,” Unicef said.

Last week, 130 migrants bound for Europe went missing and are feared to be dead after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast. The incident is the deadliest shipwreck since the beginning of the year.