EU policy on refugees costing children’s lives, says World Vision

What we are seeing now risks forcing children back into warzones,” says Gavin Crowden, World Vision UK’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs. “No child should fear violence and death. No child should be denied help when he or she seeks it.”

“One in three refugees who makes the treacherous journey from Turkey to Europe is a child. We know that many children have already been wrenched away from their parents, so the impact of some of the policies being discussed would be nothing short of disastrous for their welfare.”

The organisation is calling on EU leaders to fully respect the law and spirit of the EU’s own legislation, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

“Already, 10,000 children have disappeared since they arrived in Europe,” says Crowden. “The suffering of these children, and those left behind, is unthinkable.

“Closing borders is not the answer to this problem. It is possible for children seeking asylum to be given refuge, access to their rights and a home in a new land without this hurting the lives of children in the countries who host them. And yet, we see countries reacting to the needs of these children by closing their borders.

“We see families with children and babies being denied shelter, food and medical care, forced to sleep in the cold and heavy rainfall where they face a high risk of disease and serious illness. We see children separated from their parents and preyed on by criminal gangs who traffic, exploit and abuse them. We see distressing images of children fleeing baton attacks and choking on tear gas – a weapon which can lead to nerve damage, chemical burns and blindness.

“Europe has a responsibility to these children. The one-in, one-out deal proposed last week puts them at risk, and would see leaders failing children. Any deal they reach now needs to protect them.”

Survey of refugee children

“Refugee children themselves are telling us their worst fears are being sent back,” says Crowden.

“I want to go to a country with no problems, said 12-year-old Roz. Sarab, 15, used to dream of being a doctor in Iraq, but now she only dreams of “leaving Serbia and going to Germany”.

“I dream of getting into Germany,” said 13-year-old Sandi. “I am most afraid of being denied entry and being sent back to Iraq. We have nothing there, our house is destroyed.” World Vision conducted an informal survey of children aged 6-17 years old travelling through Serbia.

“The majority of children told us that they fear fighting and war the most, and alongside this there is a genuine fear of being sent back to countries where this is a reality for them. It is a painful reminder to us that this is a war that affects children, and we need to do more to secure their futures and allow them the chance to be children.”

“Many of them maintain the innocence and hope that children all over the world share, with dreams of becoming footballers. But they also live in fear of death, which no child should have to.”

“As we said in our open letter to leaders this week, people, not borders, are in urgent need of protection. We believe Europe has the capacity to manage this situation effectively and humanely. That’s what we want to see come out of the summit in Brussels today.” World Vision is calling on EU leaders to prioritise:

· Guaranteed safe routes for children, with a focus on ensuring they can stay with or reunite with family.

· Ensuring children receive a humane reception when they arrive in Europe. This means more services, including safe spaces for children.

· Respect for the dignity and rights of all children, regardless of where they are from. Any returns process must still be respectful of their fundamental human rights and conducted only to countries where their safety can be assured. No one must be left to fall into undocumented status. Notes to editors:

· In a report released last week, The Cost of Conflict for Children, World Vision recommends that protection mechanisms should be put in place along the migration route to protect unaccompanied minors from abuse and exploitation. The report also calls upon refugee host countries to scale-up resettlement and alternative humanitarian admissions programmes in order to protect those who flee violence. · Last year, an estimated 270,000 child refugees entered Europe, with more than 26,000 of them unaccompanied. At the start of the year, more than 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe.

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