Joint press release IOM, UNICEF, Save the Children, OHCHR, PICUM: New European Union returns policies put children at risk

Brussels, 3 March 2017.

The European Commission yesterday adopted a Recommendation and Renewed Action Plan for EU member states to consider in their procedures to return men, women and children staying irregularly in the EU to their countries of origin or transit. It encourages member states to undertake swift returns, which limit basic safeguards and rights that should be guaranteed to all migrants, including in cases involving children.

In a joint press release, UN agencies and child rights organisations state they are concerned that the Commission package on Return encourages member states to undertake ‘swift returns’ of people – including children – with reduced procedural safeguards and through the increased use of detention. This approach would put children’s lives at risk and would be in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which every EU member state has ratified.

We welcome the reference in the document to best interests’ assessment in return decisions for unaccompanied children. It is essential for robust best interests procedures to be implemented before any child – including children with their families – is issued a return decision. This cannot be a tick box exercise. In considering whether return is in the best interests of the child, the child’s views should be duly considered. Forced removals and detention are extremely harmful for children and families. Children should never be detained for immigration purposes, even as a last resort.

Earlier this year, three unaccompanied Afghan children committed suicide in Sweden. Case workers said the children felt lonely and were unable to handle the anxiety of the process, nor the prospect of being deported to a place where they did not feel safe.

Returnee children and families are at risk of rejection by their families or local communities in their countries of origin, as well as human rights violations. They often face severe discrimination. They are vulnerable to exploitation, to being recruited by armed groups, or pushed into forced labour.

Rather than address the harm to children already caused by the EU and member states return policies, the Commission document recommends measures that would increase it. It encourages fewer safeguards, quicker and automatic return decisions, more forced removals, and more detention.

Far from addressing the real migration challenges that exist across the EU, these proposals will only exacerbate the situation. Further, there is no evidence that forced removal dissuades people from migrating. Returning them to unsustainable situations increases the risk of further cycles of precarious and insecure migration.

Behind the policy decisions and targets to enforce return decisions are the lives of real children and families. The EU and its member states have long been leaders on children’s rights. We urge them to uphold their commitments to all children, regardless of migration or residence status.

Notes for editors:

• A 2012 UNICEF study ‘Silent Harm’ on the psycho-social impact of children forcibly removed to Kosovo found that 1 out of 3 children exhibited signs consistent with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, including disturbed sleep, nightmares, flashbacks, black-outs, separation anxiety, social withdrawal and anger or aggression. Nearly one in two teenagers suffered from depression, one in four thought about suicide.

• For quotes of children speaking about how forced removal – or fear of it – has impacted them, see UNICEF ‘Silent Harm’ (2012) and PICUM ‘Hear Our Voices’ (2016).

• A properly implemented voluntary return policy may be in the best interests of children, whether alone or with families. However, a formal, individual and robust procedure to determine what is in that child’s best interests must always take precedence over migration control objectives, whether children are unaccompanied, separated, or with members of their family. There are numerous safeguards necessary to ensure this procedure is meaningful. Children should not be returned if the only care arrangement immediately available upon their return is institutionalised care.

• Further every return decision – whether involving children or not – must also allow for effective access to information, legal remedies and legal counsel. For further information, see OHCHR’s Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders (2014).

• Detention is never in the best interest of the child. It has been repeatedly proven that locking children and families in detention facilities has a profound and negative impact on children’s health and well-being, and is unnecessary. A growing body of international law requires governments to expeditiously and completely cease the practice, and all EU governments committed to end child immigration detention at the UN General Assembly on 19 September 2016. Instead, states should promote proper case management support, where children and families can be accommodated in non-custodial, community based settings. Not only is this a legal necessity, it is more effective and cheaper.
For more information, contact:

Elisabeth Schmidt-Hieber, PICUM, +32 2 210 1780, elisabeth.schmidt-hieber@picum.org

Karen Mets, Save the Children,+ 32 499 11 86 35

Karen.mets@savethechildren.org

Simon Ingram, UNICEF EU Office, +32 491 90 5118, singram@unicef.org

Irina Todorova, IOM Regional Office for the EEA, EU and NATO, +32 2 287 7113, itodorova@iom.int

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If the EU fails to act, more children might die in Greece this winter

Save the Children, Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights watch and 30 other organisations ring the alarm bell

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A five day old baby. His parents are Syrian refugees and came with him to Lesvos (Greece) in a dinghy from Turkey. Picture taken in December.

This week, European leaders meet in Brussels to discuss, amongst other things, progress on the EU-Turkey deal, the reform of the European asylum system, solidarity and responsibility sharing, and cooperation with countries of origin and transit. As humanitarian and human rights organisations working in Europe, we are gravely concerned that European policies are trying more and more to push people out of Europe, making it even harder to seek asylum, and leaving it to Member States of first entry, like Greece, to shoulder all the responsibility. Disregarding the realities on the ground and the human rights violations that the EU-Turkey Statement has led to, the European Commission proposes measures that will further exacerbate the situation.

In its progress report on the EU-Turkey deal that was published last week, the European Commission acknowledges many of the problems that their European policies and approaches are causing in Greece, that reception centres on islands are filled beyond capacity and that conditions are drastically deteriorating under harsh winter weather. Yet a Joint Action Plan, published last week along with the progress report, asks Greece to take problematic steps to increase returns to Turkey, including of vulnerable asylum seekers and those with family members in other EU countries. The Commission has also recommended that EU countries should gradually resume returns to Greece of asylum seekers who passed through that country from 15 March 2017 onwards, applying the Dublin Regulation. Given the challenges the country is facing, this decision comes when efforts should instead be stepped up to relocate asylum seekers out of Greece to other European countries.

At the EU summit on December 15, European countries have the opportunity to make concrete changes that will determine whether the EU manages migration with respect to human rights and prevents unnecessary suffering. Its leaders have the political strength to ensure the future of people arriving in Europe will be managed humanely and responsibly.

The question is whether or not they have the political will.

The living conditions of tens of thousands of men, women and children on the Aegean islands do not meet even the most basic standards of dignity or safety. Many sites are not fit for living in during winter with people falling ill and even dying in tents from fire and suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, families are being kept apart, and procedures are slow and unclear to people who are trying to claim asylum. Unaccompanied children are kept in detention facilities or in police cells, often in unsanitary conditions without any privacy, while awaiting space in a shelter. Sometimes they are detained together with adults increasing the risk of sexual and other abuses.

In any other part of the world, Europe would be calling on governments to improve the situation. Instead, European countries are shifting their protection responsibilities on to countries outside the EU, even at the cost of violating European and international law. They have failed to come together and collectively manage the new arrivals of people, instead putting huge pressure on just a few countries to manage the process and consequences of Europe-wide policies. Phrases like “flexible solidarity” have no place in a common, well-managed and humane approach to migration.

The EU-Turkey deal, a flagship policy, has resulted in over 16,000 people trapped on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos despite island sites collectively having only the capacity to host 7,450. Many of these people are detained upon arrival to the islands, and most facilities and sites where asylum seekers live lack adequate services and accommodation. The transfer of people from overcrowded sites on the islands to locations in the mainland that meet European standards for reception has now become urgent.

On the mainland, border closures blocking onward travel and a lack of timely options to seek refuge in other EU Member States has led in Greece to people living in camps that were only designed for temporary stay. Children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups should not be required to stay in tents with no heating in the freezing cold in Europe. Substantial efforts and support is needed to improve reception conditions all around the country and to ensure swift and efficient access to the asylum procedure.

The relocation mechanism is still slow and difficult to navigate and Member States’ offers are still much behind their targets. Though the mechanism expires in September 2017, only 8,162 refugees have been relocated out of the 106,000 assigned spots – less than 8% – of the agreed target. The system suffers from serious design flaws, including that it excludes many people because relocation is only open to those nationalities that have an EU-wide recognition rate of at least 75%.

At the summit on 15 December, European leaders have the opportunity to ensure that people arriving in Europe will be treated humanely, responsibly and that their rights will be safeguarded.

In order to improve the situation, European leaders need to take important steps immediately:

       Member States should prioritise the immediate transfer of people from overcrowded sites on the islands to open facilities on the mainland that meet European law standards for reception, rather than pressuring Greek authorities to keep people on islands in substandard conditions.

       Member States should commit to redoubling their efforts to take asylum seekers out of first countries of arrival, including Greece, prioritising the most vulnerable groups, irrespective of their nationality, and providing information and support to people when selecting the destination country. Member States should enable swift and efficient access to family reunification, relocation and a secure refugee status.

       Member States should ensure that every person has access to protection and to a fair and efficient asylum process. The EU should respect the fundamental rights framework it has set out for itself and ensure that the desire to speed up processes is not at the expense of access to asylum.

The EU should halt its policy of externalising migration management through agreements such as the EU-Turkey Statement, which fall short of the EU’s commitments under refugee and human rights law. It is possible to manage migration in a dignified and humane way. By strengthening the framework for legal migration, expanding safe and legal routes for refugees, and protecting the rights of everyone who arrived in Europe, the EU can set a global example for systems that ensure the wellbeing of migrants, including refugees, while simultaneously protecting its own internal freedoms.

 

 

 

 

EU must step up action for children, child right agencies warn

Europe’s migrant and refugee crisis will soon hit its third year, and as the numbers show, children are playing an even larger- and often tragic- part in it. Between January and September 2016, more than 664,500 children claimed asylum in Europe; In Italy, nine in ten children arriving this year are unaccompanied; in Greece, 23,000 children remain in limbo –their futures hanging in the balance, their education on hold. More than 700 children are estimated to have died at sea trying to reach Europe this year alone.

The EU is not powerless on the issue. Many things can be done. Today, at the occasion of the 10th European Child Rights Forum, over 75 child rights agencies, including Save the Children, UNICEF and UNHCR urge the EU to take immediate action to protect children, with 7 concrete proposals.These include the urgent adoption of an EU Action Plan on children in migration, strengthened safeguards for children in the asylum legislation, increased funding for national child protection systems and building mechanisms to protect children across borders.

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

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

Beyond their immediate needs in terms of food and shelter child migrants and refugees arriving in Europe need protection above all else. Last week, a six year old child and woman died during a fire in Moria detention camp on the Greek island of Lesvos. It’s unacceptable that children fleeing death back home, die in Europe as they wait for paperwork to be completed. The EU and member states continue to drag their feet on family reunification and the relocation of asylum seekers, leaving people languishing in sub-standard camps.

The countries children arrive in and travel through lack capacity, resources and coordination to ensure that children have access to the asylum process. At the current rate it takes more than a year for a child stranded in Greece to be reunited with his or her family. No wonder that as a consequence, children disappear or turn to smugglers in order to reach family and community members in other member states.

The EU has the tools to make this happen. The ongoing reforms of the asylum system can enhance the protection of children by ensuring access to guardians, education and family reunification. To help them integrate, the EU could make sure that children receive a secure long-term residency status. The EU could also put forward much more robust alternatives to detention, preventing them from being detained, as has now become common practise in many countries.

Funding needs to be made available to support an innovative, integrated response by the European Commission, Member States and civil society. A range of financing instruments could earmark the resources needed to address issues related to children in migration.

Investing in transnational child protection is essential to prevent children from going missing. The EU can play a vital role by looking at the mechanisms that exist between Member States and improving cross-border cooperation that protects children. Data platforms for information exchange between member states could already provide a first step in the right direction.

Many of these children will grow up to become future EU citizens.The EU has the instruments and resources to make a greater commitment to child refugees and migrants. We need to invest in them and encourage them to become active participants in our societies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waarom vertrekken zoveel jongens uit Afghanistan?

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Naar aanleiding van de EU-Afghanistan donor conferentie deze week praat de EU vandaag met de overheid van Afghanistan over migratie. De nadruk ligt daarbij vooral op de terugkeer van asielzoekers. De EU en verschillende lidstaten dreigen ermee de hulpverlening te verminderen als Afghanistan niet dringend wat meer teruggekeerde asielzoekers opvangt.

In 2015 bereikten 90.000 niet-begeleide minderjarigen Europa. Meer dan de helft kwam uit Afghanistan. Afghanen maken globaal de grootste groep vluchtelingen uit. Waarom komen zoveel Afghaanse niet-begeleide kinderen naar Europa? Hier willen we graag een woordje uitleg geven over hoe het voelt om op te groeien in Afghanistan, waarom kinderen vertrekken, en wat ze onderweg meemaken.

Het valt niet altijd eenvoudig te verklaren waarom kinderen de 5000 kilometer lange reis aanvangen. Motieven zijn vaak complex.  Sommigen zijn op de vlucht voor geweld, anderen willen een betere opleiding of geld verdienen om hun familie te onderhouden. Vaak is het een combinatie van de drie. Een studie uit 2014 zegt dat de jongens meestal tussen dertien en zeventien jaar oud zijn. Soms beslist het gezinshoofd om een zoon op pad te sturen, waarbij alle mogelijke middelen ingezet om de reis te bekostigen. Andere keren vertrekken jongens alleen en verdienen ze onderweg geld bij om smokkelaars te betalen. Iran is vaak een tussenstop, waar ze via familie een tijdelijke job te pakken krijgen. Het kostenplaatje van zo’n reis is hoog, de mensen die vertrekken zijn zeker niet de allerarmsten.

Toenemend geweld

Vandaag is Afghanistan minder veilig voor kinderen. Het geweld is aanzienlijk toegenomen. In 2015 werden meer dan 11.000 burgers gedood of verwond,  één op vier was een kind. In de eerste zes maanden van 2016 was al één op drie slachtoffers een kind. De recrutering van kindsoldaten is verdubbeld tussen 2014 en 2015. Die worden meestal ingezet door de politie of door de Taliban, om zelfmoordaanslagen te plegen.

Kinderen worden voortdurend blootgesteld aan agressie. Eerder dit jaar voerde Save the Children een  onderzoek bij 1000 mensen dat peilde naar hun ervaringen met geweld. Meer dan de helft was jonger dan 15 jaar. Bijna 40% zag een familielid vermoord worden in het voorbije jaar. Eén op drie waren getuige van geweerschoten, bombardementen en gevechten. Bijna een op vijf van de kinderen was slachtoffer van verkrachting of een andere ernstige vorm van geweld.

Veel Afghaanse kinderen in Europa komen uit Iran waar ze het geweld in vluchtelingenkampem ontvluchtten. Iran en Afghanistan vangen 95% van de vluchtelingen op maar de laatste tijd is ook daar de onzekerheid gestegen. De Internationale Organisatie voor Migratie schat dat tegen het einde van het jaar 600.000 Afghanen uit Pakistan terug naar Afghanistan zullen keren omwille van de toenemende aanvallen en agressie.

Zware reis

De reis naar Europa is vaak vermoeiend en traumatiserend. Save the Children interviewde 78 kinderen in asielcentra in Noorwegen om te peilen naar hun ervaringen. Kinderen hadden dorst, honger en voelden zich eenzaam. Vaak zagen ze mensen sterven onderweg, of kinderen die achtergelaten werden door hun ouders omdat ze te zwak waren om de reis verder te zetten. Velen praten ook over de ruwheid van politie aan de grenzen. Intussen beginnen landen steeds vaker kinderen en volwassenen terug te sturen naar Afghanistan. Terwijl veel landen een wetgeving hebben die de gedwongen of vrijwillige terugkeer van kinderen toelaat, bleef dit vaak dode letter. Vandaag begint dat stilaan te veranderen.

Overheden vertellen graag het verhaal dat mensen uit Afghanistan naar hier komen omwille van armoede en werkloosheid, dat het economische vluchtelingen zijn. De realiteit is een pak complexer. Afghanistan is nog steeds een van de moeilijkste landen ter wereld om in op te groeien als kind. Als Europese overheden willen zorgen dat de instroom vermindert, moeten ze investeren in onderwijs en diensten voor kinderen. Ze moeten erkennen dat het geweld is toegenomen en trachten er iets aan te doen. Kinderen of jongvolwassenen die teruggestuurd worden hebben het vaak erg moeilijk. Ze worden verstoten door hun familie en gemeenschap omdat ze gefaald hebben. Ze worden met achterdocht bekeken omdat ze van Europa komen.

Zo lang er geen systemen zijn om die kinderen de juiste bescherming te bieden, mogen ze niet teruggestuurd worden. Onze verplichting om mensenrechten na te leven stopt niet aan de grenzen. De terugkeer van asielzoekers staat vandaag centraal in het migratiebeleid van de EU. Overeenkomsten worden gesloten met landen zoals Niger en Ethiopie, die ‘beloond’ worden met meer handel en investeringen in ruil voor het opvangen van migranten. Een deal met Libie is verre van uitgesloten. Terwijl die landen hebben duidelijk niet de draagkracht om gigantische migratiestromen op een humane manier op te vangen.

Het is gemakkelijk om ons te laten verleiden door populistische slogans, maar als we de oorzaken van migratie willen aanpakken moeten we kijken naar de feiten. De EU verkiest te investeren in defensie, grenscontroles en de ontwikkeling van de privésector terwijl verschillende rapporten erop wijzen dat gebrekkig onderwijs van kinderen een van de belangrijkste factoren is in de beslissing om te vertrekken. Nu is niet het moment om dte verzaken aan de rechten van de mens, en zeker niet die van het kind. Samenwerken met overheden van landen die geen systemen hebben om mensen te beschermen zal op termijn leiden tot meer, niet minder migratie.

Voor meer informatie lees onze briefing hier.

The EU is failing Afghanistan’s unaccompanied migrant children

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In the margins of the EU-Afghanistan donor conference this week, EU and Afghan officials will meet behind closed doors for a ‘High-Level Dialogue on Migration’. Recent media reports and statements by officials indicate that returns will be high on the agenda. According to a document leaked to the Guardian, Afghanistan will lose aid if it doesn’t commit to taking in 80.000 returnees.

In 2015 more than 90.000 unaccompanied children reached Europe. Over half of them were from Afghanistan, mainly boys. Afghans constitute the world’s largest protracted refugee population. In spite of these stark numbers, very few people seem to ask the question so many Afghan children undertake the treacherous, often traumatising, 5000 km journey to reach Europe.

Here we would like to shed a light on what it’s like for a child to grow up in Afghanistan, what children are running away from, and the risks they face en route.

There’s no easy way to explain why children leave. Motives are often complex. According to UNHCR, children travelling on their own in 2014 were mostly boys between the age of 13 and 17. Some children flee from violence; others are looking for a better education or ways to make money. More often than not it’s a combination of the three. Sometimes the family decides to send them. Other times children decide to leave on their own, either with financial support of relatives of by gathering necessary resources on the road. Iran is often an intermediate stop, as relatives there can help children find a job to finance their onward journey. People that can afford to send their children are generally not the poorest, as the price to pay smugglers is high. Parents often mortgage or sell property to pay for the trip, which raises the pressure to succeed.

Widespread violence against children

Today Afghanistan is less safe for children: 2015 saw the highest level of violence since UN reporting started in 2009, with one in four of the 11,000 civilian casualties injured or killed in conflict a child. In the first six months of 2016, nearly one in three casualties was a child. Child recruitment in 2015 has also doubled compared to 2014, mainly by police forces or the Taliban, who deploy them for suicide attacks.

Violence against children is widespread. Save the Children conducted a household survey among 1000 Afghan citizens early this year. More than half of the respondents were below the age of 15. 91% of the children reported experiencing some level of violence, mainly kicking, beating with objects, choking or burning. Nearly 40% saw a household member being killed in the last year. One in three have been exposed to gun fire, bombing and fights. About one in five children reported being subject to rape and the most egregious forms of violence.

The vast majority of Afghan refugees live in Iran or Pakistan. Due to increased harassment, violence and intimidation, IOM now estimates that about 600.000 refugees will be returning to Afghanistan by the end of this year.

Traumatizing journey

The journey to Europe is often traumatizing. In Norway, Save the Children interviewed 78 children coming from Syria and Afghanistan. Children suffered from hunger and thirst along the route, and they were lonely and scared.  Some were shot at, received death threats, almost drowned or were nearly killed. They mentioned police brutality and violence at the borders.

In the meantime, more member states are approving new laws that facilitate returns to Afghanistan. While legislation allowing forced and voluntary return of children has been in place for many years, it was very rarely implemented in practise. This is now changing.

Governments like to tell that Afghans coming to Europe are job-seekers looking for a better life. The reality is much more complex. Afghanistan is still one of the worst countries in the world to grow up as a child. If governments want fewer people to come to Europe, they should invest in education and services for children. They need to recognise that there is an increase in violence and do something about it. Children or adolescents that are sent back face many difficulties in re-connecting with their families and communities. Coming back to Afghanistan empty-handed, without meeting families’ expectations is a potential source of stigma and isolation. Many find it difficult to readjust.

EU’s moral obligation

As long as Afghanistan does not have the systems in place to guarantee protection, children should not be sent back there. The EU’s obligation to protect and promote human rights does not stop at its borders. Return and readmission form the centrepiece of the EU’s new migration policy. Agreements are being negotiated with countries like Niger and Ethiopia, which promise trade and financial concessions in return for keeping migrants out. These countries do not have the capacity nor the systems in place to host large groups of refugees in a humane and dignified manner.

In order to better deal with migration at a global level, we need to understand its complex and multi-faceted drivers. Right now the EU is investing in defence and border controls, while many reports point out that quality education for boys and girls is key when it comes to tackling the drivers of migration.  We need to take a step back and analyse migratory movements in each context. Catering to populist demands in Europe will not lead to pragmatic and balanced solutions addressing the reasons why these children take to the hard road. We cannot forsake our duty to uphold human rights. And we must not disinvest in our children’s future wherever they are on life’s journey. We Europeans must not kill their hope. We will do ourselves a disservice in the long run.

For more information, read Save the Children’s briefing here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save the Children launches new campaign for refugee children

 

On 10 May Save the Children launched its ‘still the most shocking second a day’ video, the sequel to the powerful video that was released to draw attention to the conflict in Syria. The video follows the story of a young girl forced to leave behind everything she’s known after a hypothetical war breaks out in the streets of London. The video highlights the terrifying reality for thousands of children fleeing conflict, as seen through a child’s eyes, following the 11-year old Lily as she escapes the UK to embark on a dangerous journey in search of a new life.

Lily is not alone. A total of over 325,000 children now crossed the Mediterranean and Aegean, fleeing war, poverty and persecution in search of a better, safer life. An estimated 340 children have drowned since September, that’s an average of two children a day.  In 2015, one third of over a million asylum applications in the EU came from children. Almost all children use illegal routes to reach Europe. Most of them cross the Mediterranean on small boats, mainly from Turkey or Greece, but also from Northern Africa to Italy. According to IOM, about one third of migrants drowning are children. In 2015, over 88,000 unaccompanied children reached Europe, four times as much as in 2013.

After a terrible boat tragedy killed 800 people last year the EU implemented an agenda on migration. Sadly, since then, the situation has not improved. By the end of April nearly 200,000 people had reached Europe, of which 35% were children and 20% were women. Due to restrictions on family reunification laws, women and children often travel alone, making them extremely vulnerable. 

Currently about 55,000 refugees are stranded in Greece. Women and children make up the majority of refugees in all the camps in Greece. The proposed relocation and resettlement schemes, meant to ensure protection to the most vulnerable and a fair distribution of asylum-seekers among member states, have failed. Only 1145 out of 160,000 refugees have been relocated from Greece and Italy, while between 35,000 and 40,000 people in Greece are eligible for relocation. 5 677 people have been resettled, out of 22 504 agreed.  Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia have still not submitted any pledge. Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia have no yet delivered on their pledges

Children on the move face huge risks, including separation from their parents, sexual abuse and exploitation, extortion by smugglers, violence and trafficking. They experience a severe education gap. Many children go under the radar because they have not been properly identified and registered. Some children burn their fingerprints in order to avoid being registered in the EURODAC system. They run away from the facility centres they are placed in, choosing instead to make the journey on their own. These children are at high risk of becoming victims of exploitation, trafficking and other forms of abuse. A lot of unaccompanied children go missing right before they reach the age of 18. Not only unaccompanied minors are at risk, children travelling with their families often become invisible, and do not receive appropriate services.

Transit and reception centres are often badly equipped with little or no facilities for children. Upon arrival, unaccompanied children are not always automatically assigned a legal guardian or are placed in detention. Detention can amount from a few hours to days or even months, depending on the country. Methods to assess children’s age differ widely between the countries and do not always take the child’s best interests to heart. A lot of countries have problems catching up with the amount of new arrivals, who end up staying in large halls, having a detrimental effect on families, who do not have the privacy required, and especially children who have experienced multiple traumas. Psychosocial care is often lacking. Generally, children are allowed to attend school in EU member states, but newly arrived children have to wait a long time before they can access education, and schools do not have the right systems in place to accommodate large groups of refugee children. Children are often unaware of their rights, and few countries apply child-friendly methods to inform children of their rights and listen to their needs. 

In its policy proposals to address the refugee crisis, the EU barely pays any attention to children, while they make up a third of all asylum-seekers reaching Europe. No child should go through the hardships endured by Lily in this video. We are working to make children a top priority for the EU. We cannot afford another lost generation of child refugees. Children should be protected equally wherever they go, so they can grow up to be confident citizens of this world. For more information, read our briefing on the impact of border closures on children, our five point plan, and the report for our Every Last Child campaign.

Een ooggetuigenverslag vanuit het Moria detentiekamp op Lesbos

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De muur rond het Moria detentiekamp in Lesbos, die net wit was geschilderd voor het bezoek van de Paus.

Wanneer je landt op Lesbos kan je je moeilijk voorstellen dat dit het toneel is van zoveel gruwel. Ik kwam net van Brussel, waar ik probeer een weg te banen doorheen alle nieuwe asielwetten en akkoorden die momenteel door onze strot worden geduwd. In Moria word je met je neus rechtstreeks op de gevolgen van die beslissingen gedrukt, en als Europeaan weegt de zwaarte van de verantwoordelijkheid die we allemaal dragen.

De pittoreske haven en prachtige vergezichten creëren een vakantiesfeer, en wanneer je naar het azuurblauwe water kijkt kan je niet bevatten dat duizenden het leven gelaten hebben tijdens de overtocht naar Europa.

Het contrast is scherp voelbaar wanneer je de grimmige weg naar het detentiekamp van Moria op rijdt. Het kamp is beveiligd door een driedubbele muur met tralies en extra prikkeldraad er bovenop. De grijze muren waren net wit geschilderd voor het bezoek van de Paus. Bij het binnengaan aan de rechterkant zie je twee celblokken, die elk niet groter kunnen zijn dan honderd vierkante meter, waar 159 niet-begeleidde minderjarigen worden vastgehouden. De celblokken zijn verdeeld tussen de Arabisch en niet-Arabisch sprekende jongeren. Dit zijn geen criminelen, maar asielzoekers, waarvan de overgrote meerderheid vlucht van oorlog. Jonge tieners leunen tegen de tralies, verveeld, en proberen af en toe een praatje te slaan met passanten die de medische faciliteit ertegenover binnen gaan. Er is niets te doen. Er is zelfs niet genoeg ruimte om een beetje te voetballen.

Iets verderop staat een lange rij mannen te wachten. Honderden staan er in de rij. Ze zien er doodmoe uit. Dit is de rij voor de voedselbedeling. Ze spenderen het grootste deel van de dag wachtend op maaltijden, want de voedselbedeling gaat erg traag. Op een gegeven moment brak er een gevecht uit. Ze zijn allemaal uitgeput, hongerig en verveeld. Ze hebben geen idee wat er gaat gebeuren, hun leven hangt af van een wreedaardige loterij gesponsord door de Europese Unie.

Binnen het kamp is er nog een aparte, dubbel bewaakte gevangenis. Daar worden de mensen vastgehouden voor hun deportatie naar Turkije. Het zijn voornamelijk Pakistanen. Niet enkel zij worden daar vastgehouden. Een groep van 57 minderjarigen zit in een aparte ruimte in die cel, omwille van plaatsgebrek. Woorden volstaan niet om dit soort gruwel te beschrijven. Ze zitten vast in isolement, met vrijwel geen toegang tot basisdiensten, informatie, of juridische bijstand. Hulporganisaties mogen er niet bij. Als dieren in een kooi staarden ze naar ons. Die jongeren zijn zo ontzettend fragiel, en hun opsluiting is het levende bewijs dat de overeenkomst tussen de EU en Turkije onmogelijk op een humane manier kan uitgevoerd worden. En dat op het gebied van een lidstaat.

Het Europese ondersteuningsbureau voor asielzaken heeft sinds een week een aparte ruimte in het kamp ingericht om de ontvankelijkheid van asielaanvragen te onderzoeken. Mensen worden binnengeroepen en er worden een aantal basisvragen gesteld die bepalen of ze recht hebben op bescherming, en of Turkije een veilig land is om naar teruggestuurd te worden. Er wordt gevraagd waar ze vandaan komen, of ze via Turkije zijn gekomen, en wat hun link is met Turkije. Ik raakte aan de praat met een jonge kerel die net zijn interview had afgelegd. Hij sprak vloeiend Engels. Hij vertelde me dat de vertaling uit het Arabisch zo lamentabel was dat hij er zelf voor koos om het interview in het Engels af te leggen. Er zijn nauwelijks beëdigde vertalers in het kamp wat betekent dat mensen onmogelijk een eerlijke evaluatie van hun asielverzoek kunnen krijgen. Vertaling is een basisrecht dat gegarandeerd wordt in verschillende Europese wetten. Dit interview bepaalt de rest van hun leven.

Terwijl ik door het kamp wandelde, werd ik voortdurend vastgeklampt door jonge meisjes. Met mijn beperkt Arabisch probeerde ik te vragen hoe oud ze zijn en waar ze vandaan komen. Vierjarige Maha* uit Idlib. Zesjarige Lubna* uit Aleppo. Het valt me op hoeveel kinderen er in het kamp zijn. Zoveel kinderen, zoveel babies. De VN schat dat 35% van de asielzoekers die nu gestrand zijn in Griekenland kinderen zijn. Iets verderop is er een zone waar de families verblijven. Er zijn bunkers met matrassen, maar door het plaatsgebrek verblijven veel families in iglotentjes die op de harde betonnen vloer geplaatst werden. Een man sprak me aan in vloeiend Engels. Wanneer hij hoorde dat ik uit Belgie kwam, schakelde hij over naar het Frans: ‘Je komt van Belgie? Ik hou van Belgie! Ik heb mijn ingenieursdiploma behaald in Luik, twintig jaar geleden. Ik vind Europa fantastisch. Als Europeanen zouden weten wat er in dit kamp gebeurd, zouden ze absoluut niet akkoord gaan. In Belgie hebben zelfs de honden mensenrechten! Maar niemand hoort ons verhaal, want journalisten mogen niet binnen. Ik heb geld, ik wil voedsel kopen, maar we mogen hier niet weg.’ Hij kwam van Aleppo. Volgens de mannen en vrouwen waarmee ik praatte is medische hulp een groot probleem. Er zijn nauwelijks dokters. Er is geen tandarts,  geen antibiotica. Op de dag van mijn bezoek was er ook geen stromend water. Een collega vertelde me dat twee Syriers de week ervoor hadden besloten terug naar Syrie te keren. Liever dagelijks bommen dan de onmenselijke detentie in Moria.

Wanneer we naar buiten wandelden, kwam er net een nieuw gezin aan. Een vader, moeder, twee kleuters en een baby. Ze stonden daar, met een paar dekens in hun handen, verward en uitgeput. Ik vroeg me af welk traject ze hadden afgelegd om daar te geraken. Dit is het eerste beeld dat ze te zien krijgen van Europa, continent van vrede en mensenrechten.

Wat drijft onze Europese leiders om dit vreselijk afschrikkingsbeleid door te voeren? De schuld in de schoenen van de publieke opinie schuiven is te gemakkelijk. Dit is geen aanpak van de crisis. Het is de crisis weghouden van het publieke oog. Momenteel is de route in de Westelijke Balkan gesloten. De grens tussen Turkije en Syrie is zo goed als gesloten. Zowel Jordanie en Libanon hebben hun grenzen met Syrie afsgesloten. Je kan niet anders dan je afvragen: waar gaan die mensen dan naar toe? En wat is de toekomst van kleine Maha, die jongens die vastzitten in een kooi, de ingenieur die in Belgie studeerde? De Europese Unie draagt hierin een verpletterende verantwoordelijkheid, en de geschiedenis zal uitwijzen hoe uitermate onmenselijk hun reactie is geweest.

 

  • De namen zijn pseudoniemen