GENEVA, Sept. 2 (Xinhua) — The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned Friday that some 500,000 migrant children have resorted to smugglers to reach their European destinations since January 2015 as a result of delays and desperation.
Though the influx of migrants into Europe has slowed down this year, criminal groups have used established drugs and arms smuggling routes to bypass tightened migration policies, UNICEF explained.
“Closing official borders was like locking the doors but leaving the windows open, which just pushes children, especially the unaccompanied, to take greater risks,” UNICEF Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant crisis in Europe Marie-Pierre Poirier said in a statement.
“States should be building up stronger protection systems for children, not building higher walls,” she added.
This trends also means big business for smugglers, with many migrants paying as much as 3,000 Euros for a single leg of their journey.
This means that many children find themselves indebted to smugglers, putting them at great risk of exploitation, UNICEF explained.
Reports have documented unaccompanied children in both France and Italy having to pay off their debts with forced labour, sexual services or being forced to commit crimes.