Fears are growing over the number of lone children risking their lives to reach Europe after 114 were pulled from the Mediterranean Sea in one day this week.

Unaccompanied minors were among the 125 children rescued on Tuesday off the Libyan coast by the authorities, aid agencies said.

“The number is incredibly alarming – it is the highest number of readings in a single day this year and certainly one of the highest we have ever recorded,” said Juliette Touma, regional communications manager for Unicef. .

“We are particularly concerned that over the next few months, as temperatures rise and the weather improves, we will see an increasing number of people, including unaccompanied minors, trying to reach the security of Europe for a better life.

At least 350 people, including children, have drowned or gone missing in the central Mediterranean since the start of the year.

The majority of young people picked up in the latest rescue will likely be sent to overcrowded detention centers in Libya, leaving them stuck in a cycle of abuse, aid agencies have warned.

An estimated 1,100 children remain in centers without clean water, basic hygiene and education, and where violence and exploitation are rife.

“Children should not be arrested and detained as migrants,” Touma said. “We have been monitoring the situation for many years and have interviewed children who told us about the appalling conditions.

“We call on the Libyan authorities to release all children held in their custody.”

Libya hosts 51,828 migrant children and around 14,572 refugee children, according to Unicef. Despite the dangers and the coronavirus pandemic, there has been no decrease in the number of people seeking to reach Europe.

Those working on rescue missions in the central Mediterranean describe the expanse of water off Libya as sometimes like an open morgue.

Last week, 130 migrants drowned after their fragile annex capsized in a storm, with waves in the Tripoli area reaching heights of six meters.

The Mediterranean hotline managed by volunteers Alarm phone said he repeatedly relayed the distressed boat’s GPS position to European and Libyan authorities on April 21, but no action was taken. The next day, dozens of bodies could be seen in the sea.

The SOS Mediterranean ship, the Ocean Viking – one of the few NGO boats operating in the region – was looking for survivors and witnessed it.

Search and Rescue Coordinator Luisa Albera said: “We are heartbroken. We think about the lives lost and the families who may never be sure what happened to their loved ones. ”

Behind the numbers are people with stories of loss, fear, hopelessness, and hope for a better life.

Five days after the tragedy, the Ocean Viking rescued 236 survivors, including three unaccompanied children from Guinea, who said they paid the smugglers 2,500 Libyan dinars (£ 400) each to make the perilous crossing.

On the one hand, it was the third time he tried to reach Europe after being intercepted twice by the Libyan coast guard.

Ibrahim, 15, said he had always dreamed of a good life in Europe. “In Guinea, my family has no means. I was born in poverty, I don’t want to die in poverty.

“I decided to travel to Europe when I was a small child. Of course, I knew going to Libya was dangerous, but I had no choice. I sold my motorbike and hit the road. “

Migrants disembark from a Libyan coastguard ship in Tripoli on April 29, 2021.
Migrants disembark from a Libyan coast guard ship in Tripoli on April 29, 2021. Charities have condemned “appalling conditions” in Libyan detention centers. Photograph: Xinhua / REX / Shutterstock

The group said that while in Libya they worked in construction for a pittance, were beaten and insulted.

Risking their lives was worth the sacrifice, they said, if it meant the chance for a better life. They had tried to give up their last attempt after seeing the poor condition of the boat, but the smugglers had forced them to board.

They are lucky that it was the NGO’s rescue boat and not the Libyan authorities who brought them to safety. But their future remains uncertain as they wait to find out where they will land.

UNICEF urged governments in the region to find safer routes for sea crossings and to implement child-friendly arrival procedures.

The agency said: “We call on the authorities in Europe and the Central Mediterranean to support and welcome migrants and refugees arriving on their shores and to strengthen search and rescue mechanisms.”