Hundreds of thousands of refugees from North Africa, West Africa and the Middle East are increasingly attempting risky voyages across the Mediterranean Sea in search of asylum, typically on overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels. While masses of people arrive each year, notably in Italy, many perish, and an increasing number of migrants are children.
Abderrahmane Sylla, Malian minister for the diaspora, told the BBC he receives reports of drowned Malians almost daily, and cited an example of an overcrowded boat that sailed from Libya in July with 87 citizens aboard, 86 of whom died.
He added his ministry prepared legislation to charge parents after visiting Italy's Lampedusa Island, a common debarkation point for migrants, and met two children, 10 and 12, from Mali.
"This phenomenon brought tears to my eyes. These children take the same route as the adults – Ouagadougou (the capital of Burkina Faso, which borders Mali), Niger, Chad, Libya; then they confront the ocean just as the grown-ups do. So they arrive on the European coast completely traumatized. We have to punish those who send their children. We have to put a stop to it."
Sylla added that Italian law prevented him from learning the children's' identities, and said European countries must help identify the unaccompanied minors so their parents could be found.