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Put migrant children’s rights on EU agenda, urges UNICEF

UNICEF proposes plan for protection of migrant children

BRUSSELS/GENEVA/NEW YORK, 12 May 2015 - On the eve of the adoption of the EU Migration Agenda, UNICEF is calling for the rights and wellbeing of migrant children to be at the heart of Europe’s immigration policy and for the European Union to be guided by the values it cherishes.
 
The death toll from seasonal Mediterranean crossings is already more than 50 times the number during the same period last year. With the warmer weather, the number of children making the dangerous trip is only expected to increase. The risks to children caught up in the flood of migrants also will increase, not only during perilous crossings but also upon arrival on European shores where they may not receive the special care and attention they urgently need.
 
At greatest risk are migrant children travelling alone without parents or adult family members. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), out of approximately 170,000 migrants arriving in Italy by sea from Libya last year, more than 13,000 were unaccompanied children.

New reports indicate that smugglers and child traffickers are exploiting an already desperate situation, preying on children to apply for asylum and lure their parents to pay more ransom money to join their children.
 
“The impact of this unfolding human tragedy affecting child migrants goes beyond the shores of the Mediterranean Sea,” said Yoka Brandt, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. “Wherever these children find themselves – whether in transit from their homes, on the seas, or on the shores of Europe and other countries – they have a right to be protected and cared for. As migration increases, the European Union can seize this opportunity to apply its laws and deeply held values to truly champion the rights of migrant children and families and be an example to all around the world.”
 
Migrant children often fall through gaps in laws, policies and practices in the current common EU protection framework. Child migrants face limited access to justice, education and health care. They can be subjected to detention and deportation, collective expulsions, and border control practices that endanger their lives as they enter EU territory.
 
UNICEF believes that the Migration Agenda the EU is due to adopt on 13 May is an opportunity to further strengthen EU safeguards to protect children as proposed in the EU guidelines on ‘Coordination and cooperation in integrated child protection systems’.

In the best interests of children UNICEF is urging the EU to be guided by a 10-point plan to protect child migrants: 
 
1. Recognize and treat all migrant children always, first and foremost as children with rights as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

2. Apply existing laws and policies to safeguard and protect the rights of children affected by migration, including monitoring and enforcing the consistent application of the EU Anti Trafficking Directive and Strategy, with special focus on prevention, reduction of demand and prosecution of those who exploit and abuse child victims.

3. In all decisions, authorities should be guided fundamentally by the Convention on the Rights of the Child – the best interests of the child - including in decisions on international protection, granting or refusing applications for residence as well as decisions regarding transfer or return.

4. Protect migrant children by reinforcing integrated national child protection systems and taking EU-wide action to drive up protection standards and address cross-border protection needs as proposed by the European Commission guidelines on ‘Integrated Child Protection Systems’.

5. Children should not be put in detention centres and should not be separated from their family for migration purposes.

6. In search and rescue operations at sea, uphold International Maritime Law and long-held custom to save and protect lives.

7. At all times during and after search and rescue operations, children and pregnant women must receive special care and attention. 

8. All children – regardless of their or their parents’ legal status – must have equitable access to quality education, health care, including mental health, social protection and justice. 

9. All children should receive equal and consistent protection, without any discrimination based on their or their parents’ nationality, residence or migration status, or race.

10. Invest in tackling the root causes for people fleeing their homes through comprehensive approaches addressing risk reduction, emergency response and development.
 
UNICEF joins the International Organization for Migration, the UN Refugee Agency and other UN agencies urging a fairer distribution of responsibility across the European Union for saving lives and protecting all those in need; and to combat racist and xenophobic rhetoric vilifying migrants and refugees wherever they may land.

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About UNICEF
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

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For more information contact:
Christophe Boulierac, UNICEF Geneva, +41 79 96 39 244, cboulierac@unicef.org
Najwa Mekki, UNICEF New York, +1 917 209 1804, nmekki@unicef.org
Sarah Crowe, UNICEF New York, +1 646 209-1590, scrowe@unicef.org


 

 

 

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