Tripoli — MORE than 400 children have died this year trying to reach Europe by sea through Libya, the North African country at the centre of a slave trade scandal.
An additional 13 000 migrant children, including 14 000 unaccompanied minors, are in urgent need of assistance in the country.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) expressed shock at the trend .
This year, nearly 15 000 unaccompanied children have reached Italy by sea travelling across the perilous Central Mediterranean route from Libya, their journeys typically facilitated by smugglers and traffickers.
Many more have suffered abuse, exploitation, enslavement and detention.
In reaction, UNICEF and IOM have joined forces in an action plan to increase support to migrant children in Libya, focusing on child protection, education, water, sanitation and health.
"The aim is that throughout this closer collaboration we will be able to reach and protect more children on the move. Children are among the most vulnerable and many are in need of protection and support," said Othman Belbeisi, IOM Libya Chief of Mission.
In 2018, IOM aims to assist 30 000 migrants in voluntary returns to their country of origin, among them migrant children.
Abdel-Rahman Ghandour, UNICEF Special Representative in Libya, said migrant children were some of the most vulnerable people in Libya.
The official thus welcomed the agreement with IOM.
"We will be able to collectively work to ensure that all children, no matter their status, are able to gain an education, be protected and receive the basic services they deserve," Ghandour said.