NO PLACE FOR A CHILD: UNACCOMPANIED REFUGEE CHILDREN
All over the world, hundreds of thousands of children are forced to flee from war or disaster without the most basic protection of their family. Alone, they take the same routes as others fleeing home, but have to rely on strangers to protect them, or their own ability to get them through challenging situations.
When they reach a safer country, they then have to navigate complex procedures to apply for asylum, and often have to endure months or years living in dangerous conditions - but many children are being failed by States and inter-governmental agencies to receive the support and protection they need - and have the right to - in these situations.
REFUGEE 'HOTSPOTS' AND UNACCOMPANIED CHILDREN:
80% of the world’s refugee population lives in countries neighbouring their home country. This typically means that most refugee host countries are those which are less economically developed, with fewer resources available to support the refugee communities to access their rights.
In Africa, Uganda is home to the most unaccompanied child refugees, with over 41,000 living in refugee camps and settlements. These are children who have fled ongoing conflict in South Sudan and DRC. Kenya has reported 13,200 unaccompanied and separated children, Sudan 11,300, and DRC 9,400.
In Asia, the largest refugee population is from Afghanistan - estimated to be around 2.4 million, with the vast majority fleeing to Pakistan and Iran. Data on unaccompanied Afghan minors still in Asia is extremely difficult to find, but numbers are likely to be high given the overall refugee population. In Bangladesh, data from 2018 suggested that there were 6,000 unaccompanied minors living in Cox's Bazaar refugee camp, which houses the Rohingya population who fled violence in Myanmar. 1 in 2 of these children were orphaned by the violent attacks on the Rohingya.
In Europe, children have been arriving from conflict zones across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa for well over five years. Across the European Union member states, there are an estimated 30,000 unaccompanied refugee children, with the vast majority being housed in Spain and Italy (over 25,000), usually having taken the treacherous sea route from North Africa to Europe. Almost every other unaccompanied refugee child in Europe is housed in Greece - with almost 2,000 of them living in a state of limbo on the Greek Islands.
100 Million youth and student activists are campaigning for the rights of unaccompanied child refugees in different parts of the world, with active campaigns running in Chad, Uganda, and across the European Union.
NO PLACE FOR A CHILD: CAMPAIGNING FOR THE RIGHTS OF UNACCOMPANIED CHILD REFUGEES IN EUROPE
The situation for children currently living in or around the refugee settlements on the Greek Islands has become dire. The formal camps are well over capacity - officially, the camps on the islands can accommodate 6,000 people, but almost 40,000 refugees are crowded into and around these spaces. Many children cannot secure a place in specialised accommodation for unaccompanied children, and are forced to face unsanitary and dangerous conditions, with large numbers of children sleeping in makeshift shelters or even outdoors.
For anyone living in these conditions, of any age, COVID-19 has exacerbated their situation. It has been widely reported that the average amount of taps for the refugee population on the Greek Islands is 1 per 1,300 people. For a child on their own, who does not have the protection of adequate and appropriate accommodation, and who may not understand how to protect themselves during the pandemic, the situation is extremely concerning.
Europe is home to some of the world’s richest countries, and their lack of action to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable children on its doorstep is abysmal. The urgent needs of refugee children, particularly those living without the protection of family and with the threat of COVID-19, must be met by these countries with wealth and resources.
ACTION: NO PLACE FOR A CHILD!
100 Million, along with almost 100 other organisations, has been campaigning since 2020 for unaccompanied refugee children to be immediately relocated to other EU member countries.
Most of us don’t have direct access to these powerful decision-makers, but they can often be reached indirectly through our local decision-makers, including parliamentary representatives.
100 Million has prepared an action pack to help young people who want to campaign for unaccompanied child refugees, as well as a template letter you can use to contact your decision-makers.
By putting pressure on governments, campaigners can confirm that 11 European countries have now agreed to bring children from the islands: France, Germany, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Belgium, Finland, Portugal, Croatia, Ireland, Lithuania, Switzerland.
These countries have expressed willingness to relocate and accommodate unaccompanied refugee children, with the following actions taken to date:
Luxembourg and Germany were the first member states to start the relocation process in practice.
On April 15th 2020, 12 children (1 girl and 11 boys from Syria and Afghanistan) between the ages of 11-15 were relocated from Samos, Lesvos and Chios to Luxembourg.
On April 19th 2020, 47 children (43 boys and 4 girls from Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea) were relocated from Samos, Lesvos and Chios to Hanover, Germany. They will spend 14 days in quarantine in a facility managed by child protection services in the county Osnabrueck, after which they will be transferred to various municipalities throughout Germany.
Germany also announced that it is willing to relocate up to 350-500 children in total.
According to media reports, 20 children are to be flown from Greece to Switzerland in the coming days.
At present, however, pressure needs to be maintained on all governments across the European Union, as it is not yet clear if the commitments mean all unaccompanied children will be able to leave the refugee camps. Some governments have used COVID-19 as an excuse not to relocate, or to delay the process, which is unacceptable given the current risks faced by the children if they remain living in unsanitary, unprotected conditions. COVID-19 makes the need to relocate more urgent than ever.