Number of children fleeing to Europe escalating, U.N. says

The United Nations Refugee Agency says the proportion of children making the Mediterranean Sea crossing is increasing.

Story highlights

  • U.N.: More migrants have landed in Europe this year than the first four months of 2015
  • The proportion of children crossing the Mediterranean is increasing, it says
  • The agency has called on European countries to do more to open legal routes

(CNN)More refugees and migrants have braved wintry seas to reach Europe so far this year than in the first four months of 2015, according to the United Nations.

Children are increasingly among those making the treacherous journey to Greece.
    "One in three people arriving to Greece were children as compared to just one in 10 in September 2015," U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
    While more than 80,000 people crossed the Mediterranean safely -- more than 74,000 to Greece alone -- "near daily shipwrecks" had left at least 400 dead so far this year, Fleming told media in Geneva on Friday.
    Some 36% of the migrants arriving in Greece so far this year have been children, and 21% were women, the U.N. says. A plurality -- about 43% -- were men.
    The International Organization of Migration earlier said 83,201 refugees and migrants had landed in Europe this year.
    Bad weather slowed arrivals from 72,193 in January to 5,110 for the first 10 days of February, it said.
    Most of the people arriving in Greece cited conflict as a reason for their journey, with more than 56% of January's arrivals coming from war-torn Syria.
    The U.N. refugee agency called for European countries to provide support for new arrivals, saying some appeared to be more focused on keeping migrants and refugees off their soil than finding solutions to the crisis.
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    "Despite repeated calls by UNHCR to expand legal pathways to allow refugees and asylum seekers to access asylum, many European member states are in fact reducing the legal avenues available," it said, driving migrants to people smugglers.
    Once in Europe, the UNHCR said migrants and refugees faced "increasing acts of violence and prejudice."
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    "Fueled by xenophobia and propaganda campaigns based on fear, refugee families, homes and places of worship are being targeted with hate crimes varying from physical attacks, vandalism, arson, and even more sinister incidents such as one where a mosque had blood thrown on its walls and a pig's head left at its door."