At least 600 children have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, according to a report released this week by international aid group Save the Children.
On average, two children have died or disappeared each day between January and September, according to data the humanitarian group analyzed. As the world faces the worst refugee crisis since WWII, the number of drowning deaths have continued to rise.
More than 3,500 people have died this way in the Mediterranean this year. That’s about 600 more people compared to the same period last year.
“The Mediterranean Sea has become an unmarked grave for children fleeing war, persecution and extreme poverty,” Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, said in a statement.
The organization released the report to coincide with the third anniversary of a shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, which claimed more than 300 lives. The boat was carrying about 500 migrants, mainly from Eritrea and Somalia, according to Reuters. It capsized just 1 kilometer from its destination.
The report was also published on the heels of the United Nations’ first-ever summit dedicated to refugees and migrants.
A number of refugees at the U.N. summit last month used their personal experiences to demonstrate the harrowing threats children across the world face daily.
Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee who competed in the Olympics, opened up at the U.N. about how close she came to dying while trekking from Turkey to Greece. She traveled with 20 people on a boat meant for six.
When the boat’s engine died, Mardini, her sister and two men helped pull the vessel to safety.
“I want to send a message that refugees are normal people who can achieve, who can create, who can work hard,” Mardini told The Huffington Post last month. “We were born in the same world, but we had some bad situations, which made us even stronger.”
The dangers that fleeing refugee children face was brought into focus last year, when a photo of a drowned boy went viral.
Aylan Kurdi, 3, was found facedown on a beach in Turkey after drowning while trying to escape Syria. While Aylan’s story represents hundreds of children, it was the explicit and heart-wrenching image of his limp body that allowed people to begin to understand the risks at hand.
For the past eight years, Save the Children has worked at Italian ports to help unaccompanied children when they arrive on land. It’s now working to save those at risk at sea, too. Its search and rescue vessel has saved more than 600 people in less than one month. That included 85 children.
“The international community cannot continue to ignore these tragedies,” Miles said. “We have an obligation to protect children, both in Europe and during their treacherous journeys.”
Learn more about Save the Children’s work with refugees and how you can get involved here.