Children pay the biggest price for the EU’s flawed response

Husam Idomeni

Hosam*, 6 with his mother, Atuf have been stuck at Idomeni camp for 12 days now as only a limited number of Syrians and Iraqis are allowed to cross the borders to FYR Macedonia. Hosam* and his mother survided a deadly attack in Syria where snipers shot the bus they were in. Hosam* was left with serious head injuries.



As leaders meet in Brussels to agree a deal to solve the crisis, they are prioritising the security of their borders over the safety of children, according to Save the Children.
Forty per cent of those arriving in Greece in February 2016 were minors and, since the start of 2016 alone, nearly two per day have lost their lives crossing the sea.
It is children who are paying the highest price for Europe’s inaction and short-sightedness – the EU’s current lack of response has left them stranded at borders, with little or no access to basic services, at risk of being separated from their parents, and falling prey to smugglers and traffickers.
Unaccompanied children are particularly at risk due to a lack of adequate shelters to host them for sustained periods. From forcing people to stay in fetid camps to denying access to people on the basis of their nationality and forcefully pushing back refugees across borders, violations of basic rights occur frequently across the whole route.
The EU should stop playing a cat and mouse game with people’s lives by applying restrictive policies on old and new routes taken by migrants. Evidence has shown time and again that a policy of containment does not work – people, not borders, should be protected.
By closing borders, we are simply forcing people to take alternative, more dangerous routes to reach western Europe.
Save the Children calls on European leaders to:
  • Withdraw the ‘return one-resettle one’ policy for Syrians proposed at the Council last week. Currently 98% of Syrians and 80% of Iraqis are recognised as needing protection on their first asylum application, so any division between sending someone back to Turkey or allowing someone to enter the EU is completely arbitrary and illegal.
  • Increase and rapidly implement their commitments to relocation and offer more safe and legal routes to the EU. Only by offering legal routes, including increased resettlement and family reunification and humanitarian visas, can we prevent children from dying on their way to Europe.
  • Protection, particularly of children, should be central to any European reaction to the refugee crisis. Asylum applications should be processed in line with international standards, people should be received with dignity in humane and adequate reception centers, and search and rescue at sea should be focused on saving lives, not pushing people back
  • Ensure an appropriate response in regions of origin including the Middle East and Sub Saharan Africa, which focuses on protecting people’s rights and on providing decent living conditions for refugees and displaced children.

For more information check Save the Children’s latest briefing on the impact of border closures on children and the latest blog by our CEO Janti Soeripto, describing her visit to the region.




International Women’s day – A refugee appeal

On the occasion of international women’s day, I would like to share a letter from an Afghan ex-English teacher called Darya*. She, her mother, sisters, nephews and nieces had been up to Idomeni by the border with FYR Macedonia but their bus had been turned back, and now they’re back in Athens with no idea what to do next. When she met our Save the Children staff in Greece she said she’d like to write a message down. It turned into a letter from her to anyone who can help.

In the first two months of 2016, more than 140,000 refugees and migrants tried to reach Europe, which is more than ten times as much as the same time last year. 56% of them were women and children. Tens of thousands people are stranded in Greece due to the border closures with FYR Macedonia, and more are arriving every day. Women and children on the road are particularly vulnerable as they face greater violence, abuse and exploitation.

The outcome of the EU-Turkey Summit yesterday does not look promising for women and children fleeing from war and prosecution. As EU member states continue to strengthen requirements for family reunification, more women and children will be forced to undertake the perilous journey to Europe. Over 3,450 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in Europe in January 2016, of which 46% were Afghani’s, which would no longer be allowed entry to the EU.

On International Women’s day, we should pay attention to the tens of thousands of women on the road risking their lives to provide a better future for their children. Read Darya’s message here:

Darya, 20, from Afghanistan holds her nephew in Elliniko camp.

Darya, 20, from Afghanistan holds her nephew in Elliniko camp.

We are from Afghanistan. We are refugees. We came here to get to a country to be safe, not to stay here. We are not tourists come here for sightseeing, we want from you and all of European countries and peoples to help us.

We came here in a very worst situation. We pay lots of our money to arrive here because there is not peace and security in Afghanistan. There is no work. No jobs in Afghanistan.

Every day a bomb explode and every day we lost lots of our people they kill and injured. When we came here we all get sick. Our elder mom and children get sick and we are full of problems. Please help us and open the borders thus everyone go to their ways that they want. We lost lots of thing we don’t have anything to go back in Afghanistan.

We need lots of things in here, such as shoes, clothes, soups, shampoo, creams and etc. Toothbrush, toothpaste for everyone.

Everyone confused to children. But how about us? No-one confused to adults and what do we need.

My names is Darya. I have three sisters and my mother. We came here alone in a very bad situation. We faced in a very worst problems in the way because we don’t have any man with us. One of my sisters live in Germany. We want to go there to live there with her because of our loneliness. My mother is very old and she was very sick. I was sick too. So we need your help and wish to help us in any way that you know. Because we are alone we are waiting for your answers. I repeat that. Please help us because we are alone.

An Inter-Agency Call on European Governments to Protect Refugees

Ahead of the EU-Turkey Council on Monday Council President Donald Tusk will visit the region most impacted by those fleeing danger and heading to the EU. He will be in Athens and Ankara today and in Istanbul tomorrow. This is a time of tragedy at the Turkish border, with a 10 year old having been shot by border guards.

A large collection of organisations have written to European Government leaders calling on them take action in order to ensure that the immediate humanitarian needs of people on the move are met, and to live up to their obligations under international law.

The letter specifically calls on European states to:

  • Put an end to the selective admission policy currently in place and fulfill legal obligations to ensure fair and thorough refugee status determination procedures for all nationalities. In addition, children seeking asylum have the right to a ‘best interest assessment’ and an individual screening for their specific protection needs.
  • Make immediate provisions to meet the needs of people no longer able to continue their journey, including urgently scaling up reception and support services which respect people’s dignity and human rights. Provisions should be made to find emergency accommodation for children and their families who are especially vulnerable.
  • Stop forceful and involuntary push-backs which deny individual rights to apply for asylum, particularly to countries where people might face persecution, and for those who are found not to be eligible for international protection, ensure the returns process respects their basic human rights.
  • Work together to ensure a co-ordinated approach to deal with the crisis based on information-sharing and collaboration, and avoid unilateral moves which can create dangerous ‘domino-effects’ that impact on vulnerable people. A collective response is needed immediately to ensure that affected states, particularly Greece, have adequate resources and funding to provide support and protection to people in their borders.
  • Create safe and legal routes into Europe for people seeking asylum, to avoid the loss of life on dangerous journeys and decrease the demand for irregular smuggling and trafficking networks. It is clear that deterrence policies based on razor-wire fences, intimidating police forces, and closed borders, will do little to stop desperate people searching for safety.

Signatories to the letter are:

ActionAid , Albanian Helsinki Committee, Atina Serbia, Belgrade Center for Human Rights, Center for Youth Integration Serbia, Civic Initiatives Belgrade, Civil Rights Program Kosovo, Doctors of the World Greece, European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Građanske inicijative – Civic Initiative, Greek Council of Refugees, Greek Forum of Refugees, Grupa 484, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Humanitarni centar za integraciju i toleranciju (HCIT), Hrvatski pravni centar, International Rescue Committee, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Macedonian Young Lawyers Association, Norwegian, Refugee Council , Open Gate – La Strada, Oxfam, Practical Policy Centre Serbia, Praksis, Praxis Serbia, Save the Children, Solidarity Now, VluchtelingenWerk Nederland.

They end by reminding European states of their responsibility to protect the vulnerable and respect the rights and human dignity of all people arriving at their borders. In contrast their latest measures reveal the dangerous trajectory that Europe is following towards undermining the foundations of European and international refugee and human rights law. In conclusion they remind European Governments that it is not too late to for Europe to correct course and enact proper procedures outlined in existing law and take immediate action to protect vulnerable people in its territory.

The letter is available in both English
Joint Statement on Boarder closures_03.03.2016
And Serbian
Joint Statement FINAL_03.03.2016 Serbian