Wednesday

8th Dec 2021

Child migrants endure 'abysmal conditions'

  • Children living in a refugee camp in northern France. (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Children who trekked alone to reach Europe often find themselves living in "abysmal conditions" upon arrival and are being denied free legal aid.

The findings are part of a thematic report, released on Wednesday (22 March) by Strasbourg-based human rights overseer the Council of Europe.

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Spearheaded by Tomas Bocek, the report says children left to fend for themselves are sometimes found begging in Turkey and, in some cases, arrested and detained.

Precarious situations

"This [legal aid] is something we have encountered in many places that legal aid is really not available, it concerns of course children but also adults," Bocek told EUobserver.

Bocek travelled to Greece, northern France, Italy, Macedonia, Turkey and also visited accommodation centres in Paris and London.

"Many live in precarious and difficult situations within Europe, vulnerable to neglect and violence," notes the report.

Bocek said that many who arrive have no idea what will happen to them, with some at risk of being treated like adults and sent to detention centres.

A lack of easy access to schooling, health care, and information only compounds the problem.

Bocek recommends the children are provided with guardians to help steer them through the administrative bottlenecks and uncertainties they often face alone.

"This is crucial, we need to have an effective guardianship system in different member states," he argued.

Issues in Italy

Bocek also said there is especially an issue in Italy, where some mayors are given the impossible task of providing guardianship for hundreds of minors.

Around 25,000 minors arrived in Italy last year alone.

Italy is now pushing through a bill in its parliament, in an effort to improve guardianship, he said.

The idea is being further supported by a broader upcoming plan by the Council of Europe on how to increase guardianship.

Uncertain futures for those turning 18 will also need to be dealt with later on.

"We are going end up dragging kids into criminality and that I think is some of the biggest fears," Afshan Khan, Unicef's regional director for Europe, had told reporters earlier this year.

Member states, such as Italy and Greece, do provide care but don't have the resources to deal with the numbers of children that are arriving.

Reaching capacity

Greek asylum minister Yiannis Mouzalas told MEPs earlier this month that they initially only had 300 spaces for unaccompanied minors.

"In the space of eight months we now have 1,400 places for them," he said.

Around 30 percent of asylum seekers arriving in Europe in the last two years were children, and nearly 70 percent of those were fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many arrive without any ID and fear being returned. The risk of absconding and turning to smugglers is heightened when, for instance, minors from Afghan in Greece are not eligible for relocation to other EU states.

The EU commission had told EU states earlier this month to start detaining more people for longer periods of time.

Hungary recently passed a law that foresees the mandatory detention of refugee and migrant children over the age of 14.

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