UNITED NATIONS, May 25 (Xinhua) -- Ahead of the Group of Seven summit in Italy, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Thursday urged the leaders of G7 industrialized countries to adopt its six-point action plan for the protection of refugee and migrant children.
At least 36,000 of the refugees and migrants rescued since January have been taken to Sicily, the site of this year's summit, and the Italian G7 presidency has made migration a priority for this year's talks, according to UNICEF.
"Sicily stands as a symbol of hope for uprooted children seeking a better life, but it is also the endpoint of an extremely dangerous journey that has claimed the lives of many children along the way," said Justin Forsyth, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.
UNICEF's call comes at a time when the dangerous Central Mediterranean migration journey from North Africa to Italy draws renewed attention.
At least 200 children have died while crossing the Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy so far this year, a rate of more than one child per day, according to the latest data from UNICEF.
Between January 1 and May 23, more than 45,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Italy by sea, up 44 percent over the same period last year. This includes some 5,500 unaccompanied and separated children, an increase of 22 percent from 2016, who account for approximately 92 percent of all children arriving to Italy via the Central Mediterranean route.
A record high 26,000 unaccompanied and separated children arrived to Italy last year, but if current trends hold, that record will be smashed in 2017.
"That is not a record to be proud of, but a reminder of our collective failure to ensure the safety and wellbeing of refugee and migrant children," Forsyth said.
Earlier Thursday, on the eve of the G7 summit, children, volunteers, the Italian coastguard, Italian and UNICEF officials took part in a symbolic rescue of paper boats to commemorate the thousands of children who have risked their lives crossing the Central Mediterranean and send a message to the G7 to take action to safeguard children on the move.
UNICEF has urged the G7 leaders to adopt its six-point Agenda for Action for the protection of refugee and migrant children. In addition, UNICEF has also launched the "#AChildIsAChild" campaign, which has so far been supported on social media by more than 2 million people.