Protecting children must be top priority, in latest refugee surge response
Statement attributable to Ms. Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe
GENEVA, 3 March 2020 – “The reported death of a child, among nearly 50 people aboard a boat which capsized off the Greek island of Lesvos yesterday, is a tragic reminder about the harrowing journeys being undertaken by the youngest refugees and migrants seeking safety in Europe.
“Whether at sea, at border crossings or in the conflict-affected areas the children are fleeing, children are the first casualties. In recent weeks, escalating violence in northwest Syria has displaced more than 575,000 children. Of the several thousand people currently concentrated near Edirne and along the Turkish-Greek land border, an estimated 40 per cent are women and children. States must do everything possible to prevent further harm to the most innocent.
“UNICEF and partners are on the ground, responding to the immediate needs of children, assisting with shelter, water, hygiene items, blankets and other non-food items.
“We are also working to meet the urgent needs of those stranded along Turkey’s border with Bulgaria, where incidents of pushbacks have been reported.
“Children and families uprooted from their homes look to political leaders for joint solutions, including financial and political support for states that welcome those seeking assistance, and serious pledges to resettle the most vulnerable among them.
“Now is the time for all countries concerned to uphold their international commitments to protect children from violence and harm, no matter who they are or where they come from. Now is the time to ensure safe access to asylum and international protection, rather than actions and statements inciting xenophobia or fueling discrimination.
“Now is also the time for European solidarity with Greece and Turkey – which have shown the world their generosity in welcoming and accommodating large numbers of children and families. No one state can manage refugee and migration flows alone. All states benefit from working together to protect children and families.
“Already vulnerable, children on the move need urgent protection. No child should ever have to risk her life or his future in the wish to be safe.”