Spike in migrants under 18 reaching Italy from Tunisia

Spike in migrants under 18 reaching Italy from Tunisia
The number of migrants, under the age of 18, travelling from Tunisia to Italy reached a new high last year, according to the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.
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2,731 minors completed the journey last year [Getty]

A record number of irregular migrants under 18 years old reached Italy from Tunisia last year, more than quadrupling in four years, a rights group said Wednesday.

Tunisia has become a major conduit for migrants seeking to reach European shores, particularly the Italian island of Lampedusa, just 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the North African country's coast.

Some 2,731 minors completed the journey last year, up from 561 four years earlier, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) reported.

"It's a record number," said spokesman Romdhane Ben Amor, presenting the group's annual report on migration.

He added that the vast majority -- 2,076 -- were unaccompanied.

Around three-quarters of the underage migrants are from sub-Saharan African countries, he said, adding that "deteriorating socio-economic situations and political tensions" in their countries were the main push factors.

The group did not say how many Tunisians were among them.

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It said a total of 15,671 irregular migrants including 584 women had reached Italy from the Tunisian coast in 2021, more than double the figure in 2017.

Tunisia's coastguard intercepted a further 25,657 migrants attempting the crossing, more than double the previous year's number.

Italian authorities say more than 55,000 migrants reached the country's shores in 2021 -- up over 25,000 from the previous year.

They mostly came from Tunisia and neighbouring Libya, which has endured a decade of lawlessness and violence since a 2011 revolt.

The United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR says around 1,300 migrants drowned or went missing in 2021 on the Central Mediterranean route, making it the world's deadliest migration pathway.