GENEVA/HONG KONG, 22 March 2016 – UNICEF today expressed concern that the new agreement between the EU and Turkey, which comes into effect this week, does not address the pressing humanitarian needs of 19,000 refugee and migrant children stranded in Greece.
Children make up 40 percent of the refugee and migrant population in Greece. It is estimated that unaccompanied children make up 10 percent of the child population.
UNICEF warned the new agreement could push children and families to take other more dangerous routes including the central Mediterranean Sea.
UNICEF welcomes EU leaders’ commitment to determining the individual status of refugees and migrants rather than collective expulsions, push-back practices or other measures that may be harmful to children.
The children’s agency, however, urges that a number of priorities are addressed:
- Unaccompanied and separated children are properly identified and taken into protective care rather than detention. They are entitled to a full hearing and assessment of their best interests prior to any decision related to them, including on return. The capacity of state institutions in Greece needs to be scaled up significantly to deal with this new caseload.
- Child and family support services such as child friendly spaces, and safe mother and baby areas are rapidly expanded in ‘Blue Dots’ services.
- Children stranded for longer periods in Greece will require an expanded set of basic services such as emergency education. Many children have been out of school for several months and would benefit even from short term learning.
- To prevent disease outbreaks among children, urgent consideration has to be given to vaccinating refugee and migrant children, especially as many have been living in unsanitary conditions for weeks. An initial response would include vaccinating against measles, polio and pneumococcal infections.