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18th Jan 2020

Commission pleads with nations to protect child refugees

  • In 2015 and 2016, 30 percent of asylum applicants in the EU were children. (Photo: © UNICEF/Romenzi)

The European Commission asked member states to do more to keep refugee children safe from harm on Wednesday (12 April), amid concerns that young migrants are becoming victims of violence, trafficking and other traumatic experiences upon their arrival into EU territories.

The commission issued recommendations, which are not binding on member states, but could help them prevent children from facing abuse and exploitation.

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"Children are the most vulnerable migrants and ensuring their protection from the moment they leave their home countries should be mainstreamed in our migration policy. Today we propose concrete actions to support our member states in addressing the needs of all children at all stages of migration," said EU commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Member states have been encouraged to hire and train staff dedicated to child protection, refrain from invasive age assessments and improve their cooperation - including by systematically reporting missing children. They should also provide adequate reception conditions and avoid locking up children whenever possible.

“The detention of children is a last resort solution, which can be used only if it is strictly necessary under exceptional conditions, when there is no other alternative,” EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova told a news conference on Wednesday.

Member states were also called upon to step up the resettlement of children in need of protection and to ensure that family tracing and reintegration measures are put in place for children who are deported.

Ester Asin, Director of Save the Children’s Brussels office, said that the lack of proper reception facilities often pushes children into the hands of people smugglers.

"On the Greek islands - where thousands of children have been held in detention-like conditions since the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal over a year ago - we have seen a rise in self-harm, substance abuse, anxiety and depression among children," she said in a written statement.

"We urge the EU to ensure [the commission's recommendation] has an immediate impact on the children who are stuck in limbo and losing hope for their futures,” she added.

The number of children seeking asylum in the EU has increased sixfold in the last six years. In 2015 and 2016, 30 percent of asylum applicants in the EU were children.

Children's rights at risk in EU hotspots

Lack of lawyers and other staff has caused logjams on asylum claims, which particularly hurt children, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency told MEPs.

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