FAIRFIELD, Conn., Aug. 23, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The number of children crossing the Mediterranean compared to the same period last year has risen by more than two-thirds – and this journey is increasingly dangerous for migrants and refugees fleeing war, persecution and extreme poverty. More than 3,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean already this year, an appalling death toll which is more than 40 percent higher than the same period in 2015. The vast majority have perished between North Africa and Italy.
Against this background of a significant and avoidable loss of life, Save the Children is launching a new search-and-rescue effort in the Mediterranean. The vessel will be operational starting in September with the aim of saving lives at sea, with facilities to rescue and accommodate approximately 300 people at a time.
The organization is launching a new appeal to help raise urgently needed funds, which will cover the cost of the vessel's operation for the next 15 months.
Save the Children has worked at Italian ports for more than eight years, helping to protect children when they arrive on land, and we believe the urgency of the current situation requires us to launch a search-and-rescue operation. The aid agency will oversee humanitarian operations on the vessel and provide specialist staff including a team leader, cultural mediators, child protection, health and logistics staff. The Italian Coast Guard, which is the organization that coordinates all the search-and-rescue operations at sea in that area, will direct the vessel toward the boats with refugees and migrants who need help.
The Coast Guard has said it greatly appreciates the necessary contribution to search-and-rescue operations offered by aid agencies. In a recent meeting with representatives of aid organizations that help with the rescue of migrants, the Coast Guard said: "We share a common goal: to save lives at sea."
"Children are children, first and foremost. Whatever they are fleeing from, they have the right to be safe," said Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children. "We have an obligation to protect children and their families, whether they are in Europe already, or during their dangerous and deadly journey.
"The root causes are complex and many, but our response is simple: we must stop children drowning. Saving lives – not border control – should be everyone's priority. The Mediterranean Sea cannot continue to be a mass unmarked grave for children.
"We have taken this decision to intervene at sea because we are convinced that, despite the extraordinary work already done by authorities as well as aid agencies, our initiative will make a valuable contribution to search-and-rescue operations in order to save lives."
The vessel, based out of Augusta, Italy, will be equipped with two smaller inflatable boats operated by specialist rescue crews. They will carry out the rescue operations, saving people either from capsized boats, or from drowning in the water itself. They will then transfer people to the main vessel where Save the Children's specialist teams will be on hand to meet people's basic needs by providing food and water, safe spaces for children and medical facilities. There will also be translators and cultural mediators to ensure we understand people's needs and can communicate with them effectively and compassionately, including explaining what will happen next. The vessel will then take people to a safe port in Italy.
Save the Children's onboard team will use our existing links and response work in Italy to ensure that children receive the support they need on arrival. This is particularly vital given that in 2016, twice the number of unaccompanied children have made the perilous crossing to Italy compared to the same period last year. Ninety percent of children that have landed on Italian shores in 2016 have done so without their parents.
Across the African continent, conflict, persecution and extreme poverty threaten children's lives. With brutal conflict ravaging swathes of the Middle East, and more than 60 million people on the move worldwide, the refugee crisis is the moral test of a generation that shows no signs of abating. Children will continue to risk everything in the search for safety and better futures.
"Our work will start on board the rescue ship, identifying the needs of the most vulnerable and lone children, providing healthcare and psychological first aid," Miles said.
"On land, children need proper reception centers where they can regain their childhood – somewhere they're safe, protected, fed, educated and given access to psychological support. Only then will fewer children go missing in Europe and more children face a brighter future."
Save the Children will, at all times, aim to cooperate with other aid agencies and the authorities who are working in the region.
When they arrive in Italy, refugees and migrants need food, shelter, legal advice, health services and protection from traffickers. Many have had horrific experiences on the long journey to Italy – starvation and abuse at the hands of gangs, long journeys on foot through the desert, rape and torture. Unaccompanied children are the most vulnerable.
Miles added: "Leaders must increase resettlement and offer humanitarian visas for refugees. September's migration summit, co-hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama, is a political opportunity for change which must not be wasted.
"We also need a long-term plan to tackle the causes of unsafe and forced migration, including conflict, extreme poverty, human-rights abuses and climate change. Stopping the smuggling gangs will not stop people fleeing for their lives. Greater investment in jobs and education in the countries these people are coming from, or pass through, would make a huge difference to making life in those places more bearable and provide a credible alternative to risky migration."
To donate to Save the Children's search and rescue ship visit: www.savethechildren.org/rescue-at-sea
Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Media contact: Erin Taylor ([email protected]), 267.250.8829 (M)
SOURCE Save the Children