Eurochild - Turning the tide for children on the move

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Introduction :

« This paper provides a snapshot of the situation of children on the move in different parts of Europe in both transit and destination countries. It is built on interviews with professionals working with and for children and families. It offers personal perspectives on the challenges on the ground and provides some recommendations at national and EU level to protect the rights of refugee and migrant children.

Children reach Europe either accompanied by their parents or carers or unaccompanied, meaning that they have started their journey by themselves, or they may have separated from their parents on their way, making them even more vulnerable. All children are vulnerable but unaccompanied, separated children and girls are the most vulnerable of all. Unaccompanied or separated children (hereafter referred to as unaccompanied children) already abroad should, in principle, enjoy the same level of protection and care as national children in the country concerned (UN Guidelines for the alternative care of children). But this is far from the reality on the ground.

In 2015, approximately 1,2 million people applied for asylum in the EU Member States, of whom 30 percent were children. Out of these approximately 88,300 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the EU in 2015, which is 4 times more than in 2014. The majority of these unaccompanied children are boys ; 13 percent are younger than 14 and half are aged 16-17 coming mainly from Afghanistan and Syria. In some cases, children as young as six have entered the EU unaccompanied by and adult or carer (Eurostat).

Children travel to Europe to escape from war, conflict, persecution, serious harm or extreme poverty. They travel to Europe with the assistance of smugglers, often having to work along the way to earn the necessary money. Children risk, and will continue risking, their lives to get to Europe by taking dangerous, sometimes fatal routes, most of the time crossing the Aegean Sea by boat but also from Northern Africa to Italy. 30% of recorded deaths in the Aegean Sea were children (International
Organisation for Migration). Once in Europe children continue their journey to their destination, again relying on smugglers.

Alarmingly, more than 10,000 unaccompanied children are reported as missing in Europe in 2015. Nobody knows the whereabouts of these children. Some may have found their way to their destination and have been reunified with families and friends.
Others may have become victims of trafficking (Europol).

Children on the move are often placed in detention centers, in big camps with adults or in overcrowded shelters, having no possibility to grow up in a family environment, to interact with the community, or follow mainstream education. Unaccompanied children feel insecure and threatened and often run away from shelters because they want to get to their destination and family reunification may take up to a year. Adding to this insecurity, children are rarely informed of their rights and face very uncertain futures.

The EU and its Member States should ensure that refugee and migrant children’s rights are respected and that they are respected alongside the rights of all other children. Whatever legal status a child may hold, he or she is first and foremost a
child. All children have the right to grow up in a family environment in the community, free from violence, have access to education, access to healthcare and leisure as they are enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. For these
reasons children’s needs should be examined in an individualised way and children should participate in the decisions that affect their lives. »

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