Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake on the child migrant and refugee crisis in Europe


Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake on the child migrant and refugee crisis in Europe

NEW YORK/ HONG KONG, 3 September 2015 – “Heart-breaking images of children’s bodies washing up on the shores of Europe … lying suffocated in the backs of trucks crossing borders … being passed over barbed wire fences by desperate parents.

On 26 August, a distressed child rests over the shoulder of the man carrying him, in the town of Gevgelija, on the border with Greece. Uniformed officers from the special police forces of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia stand nearby. In late August 2015 in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, more than 52,000 people have been registered at the border by police in the town of Gevgelija, after entering from Greece, since June 2015. Since July 2015, the rate of refugees and migrants transiting through the country has increased to approximately 2,000 to 3000 people per day. Women and children now account for nearly one third of arrivals. An estimated 12 per cent of the women are pregnant. Many are escaping conflict and insecurity in their home countries of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and the Syrian Arab Republic. There are children of all ages traveling with their families. Some are unaccompanied minors aged 16–18 years who are traveling in groups with friends. They are arriving in the country from Greece, transiting to Serbia and further to Hungary, from where they generally aim to reach other countries in the European Union.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2065/Georgiev
“As the migrant and refugee crisis in Europe deepens, these will not be the last shocking images to ricochet around the world on social media, on our televisions screens and on the front pages of our newspapers.

“But it is not enough for the world to be shocked by these images. Shock must be matched by action.

“For the plight of these children is neither by their choice nor within their control. They need protection. They have a right to protection.

“We urge that the following measures be taken:

1. Protect these children through the provision of essential services at all times – including health care, food, emotional support, and education – and adequate shelter for migrants and refugees that keeps families together.
2. Deploy adequate numbers of trained child welfare experts to support children and their families.
3. Continue search and rescue operations – not only at sea, but also on land, as families move across countries – and make every effort to prevent the abuse and exploitation of migrant and refugee children.
4. Put the best interests of children first in all decisions made regarding these children – including in asylum cases.
“Our hearts go out today to the families who have lost children – off the coasts, on the shores, and along the roadsides of Europe. As the debates on policies proceed, we must never lose sight of the deeply human nature of this crisis.“Nor of the children.“Nor of its scale. At least a quarter of those seeking refuge in Europe are children – in the first six months of this year, more than 106,000 children claimed asylum in Europe.

“And we should never forget what lies behind so many of the stories of families seeking sanctuary in Europe: terrible conflicts such as that in Syria, which already has forced some 2 million children to flee their country. Only an end to these conflicts can bring an end to the misery of so many.”

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