CAIRO — A total of 125 Europe-bound children were among those intercepted at sea this week by Libyan authorities off the Mediterranean coast, the United Nations child welfare agency said Friday, adding that most were brought to detention centers.
The children, fleeing war and poverty across the perilous maritime route to Europe, included 114 unaccompanied minors, UNICEF added in a statement.
"The majority of those rescued are sent to overcrowded detention centers in Libya under extremely difficult conditions and with no or limited access to water and health services. Nearly 1,100 children are in these centers," read the statement.
UNICEF urged the Libyan authorities to release all children and to put an end to immigration detention.
In the years since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, war-torn Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing Africa and the Middle East.
"The Central Mediterranean continues to be one of the deadliest and most dangerous migration routes in the world," UNICEF said, adding that at least 350 people, including children and women, have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean since January.
Last week, 130 Europe-bound migrants went missing in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast, in the deadliest shipwreck since the beginning of the year.