Joint Statement - Call for Renewed Commitment to Solidarity and Action to Protect Children in Migration at EU borders

 

Justice and Home Affairs Council, 9-10 December 2021:

Leading human rights groups call for renewed commitment to solidarity and action to protect children in migration at EU borders.

 

The humanitarian and protection needs at various EU borders, including of unaccompanied children and those with families, are escalating at the onset of winter.[1] Recent developments in Afghanistan heightened these needs, with roughly half of the asylum applications of unaccompanied children  in the EU coming from Afghan individuals in August 2021.[2] Moreover, amid increased arrivals at various EU maritime[3] and land borders,[4] most recently those of Poland,[5] Latvia and Lithuania,[6] children, travelling with families or alone, are at risk of human rights violations including refoulement and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance as well as access to asylum procedures, dignified reception conditions and adequate support.[7]

 

Rather than introducing derogations to the EU asylum acquis[8] that undermine the right to asylum,[9] we urge the EU institutions and Member States to improve migration management and ease tensions at various borders through the use of current responsibility sharing mechanisms. We recognise that ongoing Pact negotiations are exploring future solidarity mechanisms, however existing family reunion procedures and further voluntary relocation should be used to protect children and families on the move now. Indeed, the recent voluntary relocation scheme in Greece,[10] demonstrated that, with the necessary political will, swift and effective transfers are procedurally and operationally possible.[11] The EU now has the opportunity to build on this experience and expertise[12] by developing operational tools that will strengthen both current responsibility sharing mechanisms, and those being considered for adoption under the new Pact.[13]

 

Leading human rights groups urge EU institutions and Member States to bring responsibility sharing back to the forefront of the political agenda. This will significantly contribute to:

  • Reducing the number of children stuck at border areas,[14] in overcrowded containment camps[15] or living on the street, often lacking sufficient food, accommodation, legal assistance[16] and education as well as medical and psychosocial support.[17]
  • Reducing the number of children who remain unidentified or go ‘under the radar’ as they attempt to reach other EU countries irregularly to join family members or seek adequate protection.[18]
  • Strengthening legal pathways and transnational case management while removing systemic deficiencies[19] in Dublin family reunion procedures, which leave unaccompanied children in legal limbo, exposed to multiple risks including trafficking and other forms of exploitation.
  • Strengthening trust and cooperation between Member States by alleviating the pressure and mitigating political tensions at EU borders, which put the lives and safety of children and families at risk.

 

Concrete actions include:

  1. EU Member States, with support from the European Commission, should accelerate family reunion and initiate further voluntary relocation of unaccompanied children from EU border areas and Member States particularly affected by arrivals of individuals seeking protection at the onset of winter.
  2. EU institutions and agencies should develop a transparent operational framework for transnational procedures within the EU, including family reunion and relocation. This can be applied by all actors involved across the EU. The framework should include EU principles for model standard operating procedures for transnational procedures. Practical guidance on procedural safeguards and child-centred inter-agency case management concerning unaccompanied children should also be developed. The framework should further include action and designate resources to strengthen and increase the availability of quality guardianship and free legal assistance for unaccompanied children.
  3. The European Commission should appoint an EU Relocation Coordinator, namely an office with the objective to facilitate the work of national stakeholders involved in relocation and to build on working group practices of past relocations. The Coordinator’s office should provide a platform for regular exchange before, during and after ongoing transfers. It should involve relevant civil society and child protection agencies, who have specialised expertise and often know the children and their needs best, which is crucial to assessing and prioritising their best interests. The office should also develop and promote processes for improved cross-border networking of actors involved in transnational procedures. It should further support Member States with identification, eligibility criteria and other key aspects, in close cooperation with civil society, EU and UN Agencies.

 

Solidarity and responsibility sharing in the EU asylum and migration system must prioritise safe routes to family reunion and international protection, not containment, pushbacks and returns.

 

Signatories:

Caritas Europa

Child Circle

Defence for Children – ECPAT Netherlands

Defence for Children Greece

Defence for Children International (DCI) - Belgium

Defence for Children Italia e International Social Service Italia.

Dutch Council for Refugees

Eurochild

European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL)

FOCSIV - Italian Federation Christian Organisations for voluntary international service

ICMC Europe/ SHARE Network

International Rescue Committee

Irish Refugee Council

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) Europe

Lumos

Methoria

Missing Children Europe

Oxfam

Refugees International

Safe Passage International

Save the Children

SOS Children’s Villages International

 

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[11] 1,601 children were relocated from Greece, Italy and Malta to other European countries in 2020, including 574 UASC, see https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/87693.

[13] Stepping Stones to Safety, Child Circle KIND Report, December 2021

[18] More than 18,000 children in migration have gone missing since arriving in Europe between 2018-2022, see https://missingchildreneurope.eu/over-18-000-missing-children-in-migration/, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/apr/21/nearly-17-chi...