Fleeing Libya: Hundreds of Children Caught in Italy’s Migrant Crisis

My piece in Time on the children caught up in Italy’s migrant crisis has just been published.

Of the thousands of migrants who have arrived in Italy in recent days, fleeing poverty and unrest in North Africa, one bears special mention. Born in an overcrowded fishing boat packed with people fleeing the fighting in Libya, he was just four hours old when he and his mother arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa. “It’s a miracle,” says Tareke Brhane, a cultural mediator with Save the Children in Lampedusa. “The mother is fine. She’s doing really, really well.” The baby boy’s parents, an Ethiopian mother and Eritrean father, named him Yeabsera, Eritrean for “God’s Work.”

Yeabsera is undoubtedly the youngest person to have arrived in the wave of sudden immigration that has caught Italian authorities unprepared and threatens to spark a humanitarian crisis. But he’s not the only minor to have come to Lampedusa, a stretch of largely denuded rock tucked in a corner between Tunisia and Libya. According to Brhane, some 80 children under the age of five — mostly Somalis, Eritreans and Sudanese — have arrived by boat since Friday, joining some 300 to 400 young Tunisians, aged between 11 and 17. They are all part of the massive migrant influx sparked when turmoil in Tunisia and Libya lifted restrictions to emigration, and fighting and the fear of economic crisis pushed many to move. “Children need special protection,” says Carlotta Bellini, a child protection manager with Save the Children in Italy. “Without being formally registered, they can’t leave the island. And we are concerned that some of them might run risks of exploitation.”

Read the rest.