EU members must protect vulnerable children, NGOs say
6 March 2020 at 3:57 pm
There are more than 1,800 unaccompanied children struggling to survive on the Greek islands
European Union member states must urgently relocate unaccompanied kids from the Greek islands to safety amid widespread children’s rights violations, a coalition of NGOs say.
Tensions are high at the Greek-Turkish border after Turkey last week reneged on a 2016 EU deal to take in migrants in return for aid and block their passage to Europe. The move could see an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
There were reports this week that a four-year-old Syrian boy had died when a dingy capsized near the island of Lesbos.
Now in a joint statement, 65 human rights, humanitarian and civil society organisations said there are severe threats to children’s health and safety in refugee camps across the Aegean islands.
Stephanie Pope, EU policy and advocacy manager at Refugee Rights Europe Action, said action was urgently needed in light of escalating violence on Lesbos and increased arrivals to the islands.
“The EU ‘hotspots’ on the Aegean islands are entirely unsuitable and in some cases life-threatening places for unaccompanied children,” Pope said.
“Each EU state only needs to accept a small number of unaccompanied children to end the intolerable situation these children are in. We believe the EU can do better.”
It is estimated more than 1,800 unaccompanied refugee children are currently living on the Greek islands.
The groups say these children are deprived of their fundamental rights, such as access to shelter, water, food, medical support, education and mental health care.
Oxfam International’s deputy director for advocacy, Marissa Ryan, said Greek-Turkish border tensions had turned vulnerable people into political bargaining chips.
“Children and other vulnerable people are being abandoned in refugee camps where most people never feel safe and many suffer from incredible trauma. This is inhumane and, frankly, unacceptable,” Ryan said.
Advocates say those with family in other parts of Europe must be reunited with them, through existing reunification channels or new bilateral agreements between EU states and Greece.
In their joint statement, the 65 NGOs called on the governments of EU member states to immediately commit to the emergency relocation of unaccompanied children from the Greek islands to other European countries.
“If each EU member state relocated just 70 unaccompanied children, these children would no longer be homeless and living in inhumane conditions on the Greek islands,” the statement said.
“While the Greek government needs to ensure it meets its legal obligations towards unaccompanied children, it is time for European leaders to take responsibility in providing these children on EU territory with appropriate care and protection.”
The full statement can be seen here.