Concern grows at rise in children making sea crossing to Greece
Children now make up more than a third of the migrants making the perilous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece, the UN has announced.
The statistics were revealed as it emerged that two babies drowned off the Turkish coast on Tuesday.
For the first time since the start of the migrant crisis in Europe, there are now more women and children crossing the border from Greece to Macedonia than adult males, according to UN children's agency Unicef.
The figures emerged as Europe struggles with its biggest movement of people since the Second World War. More than a million people fleeing war, violence and poverty, risked life and limb to reach its shores last year.
"Children currently account for 36pc of those risking the treacherous sea crossing between Greece and Turkey," Unicef spokeswoman Sarah Crowe said, adding "children and women on the move now make up nearly 60pc" of those entering from Macedonia.
The figures mark a significant shift since June, when 73pc of migrants were adult males and only one in 10 were under the age of 18.
Marie Pierre Poirier, Unicef's special co-ordinator for the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, said women and children were even more vulnerable to the dangers of trying to travel to Europe.
"It means more are at risk at sea, especially now in the winter, and more need protection on land."
Underlining her point, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday that one in every five who drowned last month while trying to sail from Turkey to Greece was a child, with minors accounting for 60 of the 272 deaths.
A total of 330 children have died in those waters over the past five months, many of them just metres from shore, the organisation said.
The drownings continue a grim trend that accelerated last year when nearly 4,000 people died trying to reach Europe by sea. The plight of children was brought home last year when the body of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi was found washed up on the shore of the Greek island of Lesbos, horrifying the international community.
The bodies of two more babies were recovered by the Turkish coastguard in the Izmir province on Tuesday, along with seven dead adults, just days after another 37 people drowned off another part of the coast.
On Tuesday, the EU urged Greece to check the flow of asylum seekers to its shores, using measures such as improved security checks, or risk having border controls imposed with other members of the Schengen zone. Greece responded by saying the army will do more to help police and port authorities deal with the new arrivals.
The IOM said that almost 62,200 migrants and refugees entered Europe through Greece in January, most of them from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq - close to a third of them unaccompanied minors.
Europol warned that young people arriving alone were particularly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and trafficking. It added that more than 10,000 unaccompanied children who had registered after arriving in Europe over the past 18 months to two years had disappeared.
Ms Crowe said European mechanisms for protecting children had not worked. "[This] is really a failure of child protection systems across the region", she said.