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.