11 September, 2015 - Speaking ahead of a key European Union meeting on Monday that will consider next steps in the refugee and migrant crisis, Unicef welcomes increasing commitments by European leaders to support refugees and migrants - commitments that should now trigger urgent action by all EU Member States to fully protect children.
“Protecting refugee and migrant children from harm, especially as winter approaches, has to be at the very heart of Europe’s response,” said Yoka Brandt, Unicef Deputy Executive Director. “All these children, who have already suffered so much, have the right to protection and to dignity. Now is the time to make those rights a reality.”
Children already make up a quarter of all asylum seekers in Europe so far this year. In the first six months of 2015, 106,000 children sought asylum in the EU, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – an increase of almost 75 per cent since 2014.
Amongst the urgent action needed for children are:
• Continued efforts to reduce the threat from smugglers and other risks. All children, especially those who are unaccompanied or separated from their families, are vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse, in transit and upon arrival in destination countries.
• Designing relocation and resettlement programmes and reception facilities that are child-focused; including adequate provision of healthcare, learning and play, and support and counselling to address the traumas children have experienced on their journey.
• Sufficient financial investment in child protection systems, services and capacities so children are supported by trained child welfare experts, with the same high standard of care provided to children across all Member States.
• Keeping family units together at all times, with family tracing and reunification programmes in place for children who are arriving unaccompanied or have become separated on the journey.
• Access to asylum procedures that are undertaken always with the best interests of the child as a priority.
• The provision of professional support and advice for children and their families that safeguard children’s rights, whatever their legal status, at every step of the process.
On Monday, Unicef UK welcomed the Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge that the UK will resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees, but stressed that a significant proportion of the 20,000 should be accepted quickly, ideally in the coming weeks and months.
It also urged the UK to ensure decisions to resettle orphaned Syrian children were made in line with their best interests, which may mean allowing extended family members or carers to come to the UK to be resettled with these children.
In addition, it advised the UK to consider offering homes to unaccompanied children who have reached Europe on their own from across the Middle East and Africa. These children are at greatest risk of all of the refugees and migrants who have arrived; living and travelling alone without family support, they are in danger of abuse and exploitation.
Unicef UK called for the UK government to consider providing safer alternatives for those fleeing conflict and persecution, so they are not forced into the hands of traffickers and smugglers. Measures to consider include allowing refugees to apply for humanitarian visas in countries of origin and transit; and widening existing family reunion rules to allow for refugee children to join relatives such as grandparents in the UK.
Unicef UK also welcomed additional aid for Syrian children announced by the Prime Minister on Monday. As more is done to protect and care for children arriving in and crossing Europe, continued international support for humanitarian and development efforts in countries of origin is vital, alongside efforts to end the conflicts and tackle the poverty that are leaving so many families with few options but to undertake perilous journeys in search of safety and opportunity.
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Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk