Fri, 15 Jan 2016
In the late summer of 2015, the BBC asked me to spend time in Italy to explore and learn more about the journeys of child migrants who cross the Mediterranean sea from Africa to Italy. This was both a fascinating and formative experience.
At the port of Palermo in Sicily, I witnessed Niamh - an Irish naval ship rescue 367 people while hundreds of others perished off the coast of Libya. There were many men from Bangladesh and Pakistan on board, and also some African men. Women and children from Syria and Palestine - the youngest child was 40 days old. There were coffins of children they tried to resuscitate unsuccessfully. There were 25 dead bodies on board.
In Rome I saw how makeshift communities, night shelters and drop-in centres run by Save the Children and others were making an intolerable situation tolerable. So many children I met had travelled on their own, for many miles over many years, across borders and continents, through war zones, hiding under lorries, in leaking boats, walking without food and sometimes water. Some were even tortured and kept in prisons.
You can listen to the full BBC Radio 4 documentary, The Boat Children here.
In Milan, the last stop for many on their way to Northern Europe, I met more exhausted children in search of a better life. One kid in particular, Ali, was keen to reach Finland - even though he actually didn't know where Finland was!
You can read more about Ali's journey, and reflections from my own personal experiences here.
Talking to migrants in Italy, I heard many stories of long expeditions and treacherous territories, of near deaths and major gambles. I met many children who travelled many miles, but have never known any childhood.
For children, the dangers are even more profound. The law is for the most part on their side, but they have to reach Europe first to understand what that means.
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