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"So many people died in the desert. We saw dead bodies, skeletons" - The horror stories of children seeking a new life

A new UNICEF report is highlighting the treacherous journeys of the world’s migrant and refugee children.

20160513_UNICEF_ITALY_0239 Peace, 17, a Nigerian migrant from Benin City, Edo State. Source: Ash Gilbertson VII Photo

THIS MAN TOOK me to his house and made me his house girl. I said to my aunt, ‘He’s older than my dad’, but she said: ‘It you don’t marry this man, I will poison you.’ That’s when I escaped. I didn’t bring anything, just my shirt and the clothes I was wearing.

This is the voice of 17-year-old Nigerian girl Peace – who was orphaned in 2012 when her parents died in a car accident.

Her aunt tried to marry her off to a 40-year-old man so Peace fled from Benin City Nigeria. She went first to Niger and was smuggled from their across the desert to Libya.

So many people died in the desert. We saw dead bodies, skeletons.

When she reached Sabratha in Libya she was locked for weeks in a windowless house while they waited for transport to Italy.

Our Libyan handlers wouldn’t let us out. There was no water, no change of clothes, not enough food.
There was fighting outside, I could hear shooting, and I was scared all the time.

After a treacherous journey across the Mediterranean in which several passengers drowned and Peace had to sit “with dead bodies”, she finally made it to Italy.

She is now awaiting an asylum hearing – but is not sure that the horrors of her journey were worth her escape.

I wish my friend had told me this is how difficult it is. I would have continued suffering in Nigeria.

20160513_UNICEF_ITALY_0330 Osarugue, 16, a Nigerian migrant from Benin City, Edo State, at Rainbow, a government administered centre for unaccompanied girls that provides shelter, food, education and legal help for unaccompanied asylum seekers in Palermo, Sicily, Italy, on 13 May, 2016 Source: © UNICEF/UN019998/Gilbertson VI

Suffering

Peace’s story is just one of the thousands of refugee and migrant children trying to escape poverty and war in search of a better life.

The children’s plight is highlighted in a new UNICEF report, entitled Danger Every Step of the Way.

Over 7,000 children have already made to crossing to Italy from North Africa in the first five months of the year.

UNICEF say that over nine out of 10 of these are thought to be unaccompanied.

Many are fleeing war, famine, poverty and abuse and much face great adversity to make it as far as Italy.

Some are sexually abused and exploited by smugglers and many die along the way. Italian social workers told UNICEF that a number of young girls were pregnant when they arrived in Italy.

Others are forced to work like slaves and live in cramped, dirty conditions as they try to make their way to a better life.

20160514_UNICEF_ITALY_0794 Fraternal twins (left-right) Aimamo Jawnoh, and Ibrahim Jawnoh. Source: © UNICEF/UN020005/Gilbertson VI

If you try to run they shoot you and you die. If you stop working, they beat you. It was just like the slave trade.

Aimamo (16) fled from his native Gambia to Libya with his twin brother and was arrested and beaten when he arrived.

He was forced to work on a farm to pay smugglers for passage.

Once I was just resting for five minutes, and a man beat me with a cane. After working, they lock you inside.

Afghan boy Seventeen-year old Ibrahim is among several thousand refugees and migrants living in Greece’s port city of Piraeus on 25 May 2016. Source: © UNICEF/UN020574/Georgiev

For Ibrahim (17) from Afghanistan, he made the journey to flee the war in his country and to fulfil his main goal in life:

All I want is to learn how to read and write … That’s my number one priority.

Along his journey he was robbed and left for days without food or water. Now in Greece, he was asked what advice he would give to children thinking of making the journey.

I would never advise anyone to do what I did. So many children die or suffer terrible injuries along the way – I saw it myself. The journey was far too dangerous.

UNICEF says that 235,000 migrants are currently in Libya awaiting passage to Europe and that tens of thousands of them are children.

20160513_UNICEF_ITALY_0876 Refugees and migrants disembark a Spanish coast guard vessel at the port of Palermo, Sicily, Italy on 13 May, 2016. Source: © UNICEF/UN020000/Gilbertson VI

“It is a silent and desperate situation- out of sight and out of mind,” said Marie Pierre Poirier, UNICEF special coordinator for the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe.

We urgently need to protect these children from all types of abuse and exploitation by those taking advantage of the situation to exploit their dreams.

Read: One-third of Irish children miss out on housing, heating and good meals

Read: Number of teenagers dying from AIDS has tripled since 2000

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