We naively think that we understand everything about the current refugee crisis that encapsulates Europe and the Middle East. Yet, the publication of UNICEF’s most recent report suggests otherwise, reminding the public that the refugee crisis is possibly even more complicated than we realized.
UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, has revealed that human traffickers mercilessly target unaccompanied children travelling to Britain. Children travelling along the French coast are manipulated by human traffickers into believing that they must pay an ‘entry fee’ in order to enter the United Kingdom. Considering that these children are obviously unemployable, they are forced to work for the human traffickers, usually involved committing criminal offences. UNICEF reports that children often become immersed in the drug trade or steal food supplies from trafficker-controlled markets. The high levels of risk, fear and violence that are associated with these jobs are evidently harming the well being of unaccompanied children. Keeping in mind that these children are already fleeing from persecution and uncontrollable religious conflict in the Middle East, whilst travelling without the comfort and security of their parents, their exploitation by human traffickers is even more alarming.
Refugee camps stationed throughout the Europe have additionally caught the attention of UNICEF, and not because of their success. Children living in these makeshift refugee camps already suffer from a diminished quality of life, which is only compounded by the sexual violence that is perpetrated by human traffickers. Children are forced into performing sexual acts for the human traffickers themselves or others for the payment of five euros, in the hope of arriving in Britain more quickly than others. Such an extreme sacrifice, in order to guarantee their own safety in a conflict-free country, is compromising their mental well being and further exacerbating their suffering as child refugees. Furthermore, an alarming trend is emerging highlighting young girls agreeing to be prostitutes to pay for this ‘entry fee’ into a safe, European country. UNICEF reveals the personal stories of these girls, namely ‘W’ who feels forced to work as a prostitute and equates her current hardship as a continuation of her struggle in Libya. Moreover, human traffickers additionally target young boys on their journey to the UK, as UNICEF reports that collectively their biggest fear is being raped. Their fear is intensified when alcohol has been consumed by the traffickers, creating a horrifying situation for anyone to endure let alone a child.
The authority that human traffickers are consolidating in refugee camps is frightening and undermines the role of non-government organisations and European governments alike. UNICEF researcher, Olivia Peyroux, discusses the UN body’s response to the shocking findings by stating that ‘when the borders are well controlled by the authorities, the traffickers have more power’. This highlights a further dilemma within the refugee crisis that has been concealed until recently. Human traffickers’ exploitation of unaccompanied children both along the French coast and in European refugee camps is exacerbating the already fragile situation in the region.