Three major agencies announced on Friday that at least "340 children, many of them babies and toddlers, have drowned in the eastern Mediterranean" on their way to Europe since September last year. A joint statement by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF revealed that an average of two children have drowned every day since September. "The number of child deaths is growing," they pointed out.
The IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF noted that September was when the tragic death of toddler Alan Kurdi captured the world's attention.
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"We may not have the ability now to end the desperation that causes so many people to try to cross the sea," UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said, "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."
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, insisted that these tragic deaths in the Mediterranean are unbearable and must stop. Clearly, he said, more efforts are needed to combat smuggling and trafficking. "As many of the children and adults who have died were trying to join relatives in Europe, organising ways for people to travel legally and safely, through resettlement and family reunion programmes, for example, should be an absolute priority if we want to reduce the death toll," Grandi suggested.
The three organisations issued their statement during a meeting in Brussels for German, French and Greek leaders to discuss the refugee crisis. Earlier this week, the EU issued a series of measures to be carried out by Athens in order to improve the monitoring of its borders, where most of the refugees cross into Europe.