NEW YORK/GENEVA/ HONG KONG, 5 September 2015 – Europe has a brief window of opportunity, before winter approaches, to protect and care for the tens of thousands of children seeking refuge, UNICEF said today.
Families stand at a reception centre waiting to be registered for a temporary transit visa at a reception centre near the town of Gevgelija in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
About a quarter of those seeking refuge in Europe this year are children. More than 106,000 children have claimed asylum within the first half of 2015, up 75 per cent from last year.
Many refugee and migrant children in Europe are living in overcrowded and inadequate conditions, where they are at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. Many are sleeping out in the open air; as winter approaches, the health of young children is especially at risk, including from the threat of diseases like pneumonia. Only concerted action to accommodate and care for children now will prevent more deaths and suffering in the months ahead.
With the growing numbers of children making perilous journeys into and across Europe, collective action with a fair distribution of responsibility across the European Union is essential. This should include putting in place a number of immediate safeguards for children and their families:
- Safe, child-friendly reception facilities as children arrive, with access to health care, psychosocial support, recreation and schooling.
- More resettlement places across Europe and humanitarian visas for children and their families. The processing of asylum cases should be timely, and always focus on the best interests of the children.
- Stronger commitment to resettlement of refugees from countries in conflict to reduce the likelihood that refugees resort to unsafe routes and people smuggling.
- Stepped-up search and rescue operations at sea and on land.
- Speeding up family reunification programmes for separated and unaccompanied children.
- Adequate numbers of trained child welfare specialists to care for and counsel children and families.
Such care is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides for the protection of all children – whether on the move from their homes, on the seas, over land, or on the shores of destination countries.
UNICEF urges the international community to address the root causes of this huge movement of desperate children through more vigorous diplomatic efforts to end conflicts, and to provide the required development and humanitarian support in countries of origin.
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