Save the Children opens new drop-in centres for vulnerable refugee children as demand for shelter doubles
Wednesday, 11 November 2015
As EU and African leaders meet in Valletta, Malta, to agree a migration action plan, Save the Children warns that tens of thousands of lone children are at high risk of abuse, exploitation, violence and trafficking on route to, and on arrival in, Europe
Last year 13,000 lone children arrived to Italy by sea, formerly the main migration route into Europe(1). This year the charity expects the number of unaccompanied children in Europe to at least double. In response, Save the Children has expanded its services for vulnerable children travelling alone or with parents, by opening new shelters in Greece and Serbia.
In September and October, compared to the previous two months, drop-in centres run by the charity in Rome have experienced a 56% increase in children arriving to receive a meal, shower, change of clothes and legal advice.(2) The children arriving are also getting younger. The average age of arrival is now 14-16 whereas last year children were 16-18.(3)
Save the Children is calling on the European Union and African Partners to protect all migrant children wherever they are and to work in true partnership with countries of origin, transit and destination to tackle the root causes of unsafe migration and forced displacement.
All children on the move should be recognized as children first and foremost, independent of their migration status, whether alone or with relatives. Too often, children are being separated from parents at chaotic borders and some unaccompanied children believe their right to asylum is enhanced if they claim to travel with an adult. These children risk being returned, with strangers, if more is not done to properly register and protect children, as it their right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Children’s rights to protection must never be outweighed by migration and border control concerns.
Children migrate for various reasons. Some are asylum seekers fleeing war, armed conflicts, discrimination or persecution in their home countries, whereas others are victims of trafficking and slavery. Some seek education and employment opportunities; others do not choose to leave, but are sent away by their families to escape poverty. Whatever the reason for their journey, many children may find themselves extremely vulnerable abroad, separated from their loved ones, often in precarious circumstances.
The charity’s psychologists and child protection experts along these migration routes work with children that report having been beaten, tortured and sexually abused during their journeys. Many have lost friends or family they were travelling with to hunger, exhaustion or diseases prevalent when people are kept in close proximity. Other have been killed by smugglers, drowned during the sea crossing, or died of hypothermia.
Never has it been more crucial to address the root causes of migration. Save the Children is calling for specific measures in countries of origin:
- Support to families to increase resilience;
- Community programmes which monitor and protect children and families at risk;
- Better information sharing about the risks of unsafe migration, to enable children and families to mitigate risks;
- Mentoring for children who are planning to migrate and better communication between areas of origin and destination;
- Cross border cooperation to ensure that children are protected throughout their journey and even when they cross borders, whether with parents, alone or temporarily separated.
The action plan and Trust Fund associated with today’s summit must deliver promises on targeted aid to create opportunities for children and their families in their home countries, including protection, food, shelter and education.
Save the Children’s programmes for Syrian refugees in Lebanon focus on livelihoods and vocational training, aiming to rekindle hope for young people who are particularly vulnerable to being smuggled, trafficked and abused on route to what they believe is their only hope of a better future.
However, until the EU and African partners provide safe and legal ways to apply for asylum in countries of origin and transit, which ensure human rights and respect dignity, people will continue to risk their lives to reach the sanctuary of Europe.
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Notes to editors:
Save the Children is responding to the refugee crisis in the countries of origin, on route and when they arrive. We work in the countries they are fleeing – countries like Syria, where brutal war has ripped apart the lives of millions. We work in countries on route, like Turkey, Egypt, Greece and Serbia – ensuring the children are protected wherever possible. We also work in countries Italy, Sweden and Germany, to ensure that these children understand their rights and have access to care and support when they do arrive at their destination.
Support our Child refugee Crisis Appeal at: savethechildren.org.uk