With the lives of more than 20,000 children in Greece and in the Balkans on hold, UNICEF urges leaders of the European Union and Turkey to find common ground for refugee and migrant children when reaching an agreement that could have serious consequences for them.
“UNICEF is concerned that returning refugee and migrant children to an uncertain future in Turkey could be deeply distressful and damaging for them,” said Marie Pierre Poirier UNICEF’s Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe. “Common ground that puts children’s best interests first and is fully aligned with international law, needs to be found. That means putting in place minimum measures that secure children’s basic needs, and protect their fundamental rights.”
Children now make up more than 40 percent of the 43,000 people in Greece trying to move northwards through the Balkans where thousands more remain unable to go forward or back. Uncoordinated border closures have left thousands of children stranded in makeshift tents in Idomeni on the Greek border, where children are now in the majority, and hundreds more stuck in unsanitary conditions along the Balkan route.
UNICEF is encouraged that EU leaders have expressed a commitment to determining the individual status of refugees and migrants rather than resorting to collective expulsions, push-back practices or other measures that may be harmful to children.
UNICEF recommends the following measures to keep children safe:
* Every child has the right to claim international protection, a right that has to be respected. Any application for asylum submitted by a child should be considered on its own merits as criteria that force children to flee their home countries are broader than for adults.
* Regardless of migration status, a child should never be returned if such a decision results in violations of the rights of the child.
* Children should never be detained for the sole reason of their migration status – not in transit countries, destination countries, nor in countries to which they might be returned.
* Alternative, safe and legal pathways should be sought as sudden border closures expose children to smugglers and traffickers and force them to embark on more dangerous routes.
By taking these fundamental steps, European leaders will demonstrate that Europe is living up to its ideals and principles and that every child arriving on its shores will be treated accordingly.
Between January and November 2015, out of 1.201.970 applications for asylum among European Union Member States, 433.203 of them were submitted by children.