Brussels, 29 November - EU institutions and Member States must do more to protect refugee and migrant children, a statement signed by 78 agencies including Save the Children and UNICEF said today to mark the opening of the 10th European Forum on the Rights of the Child in Brussels.
Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis will soon enter its third year, with children playing an ever larger part and the impact on their lives all the more tragic. Between January and September 2016, more than 664,500 children claimed asylum in Europe; In Italy, nine in ten children arriving this year are unaccompanied; in Greece, 23,000 children remain in limbo –their futures hanging in the balance, their education on hold.

More than 700 children are estimated to have died at sea trying to reach Europe this year alone. Last week a six-year old child died in a fire in the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.
UNICEF and Save the Children are deeply concerned that failure to prioritise the protection of children is putting more children at risk. Too little has been done to address the particular needs and vulnerabilities of children. Children in Sweden, for example, can often wait up to one year for their asylum cases to be heard. Children stranded in Greece have been out of school an average of 20 months. Many children have to wait more than a year to reach family members in other EU states – a dangerous delay that causes children to disappear or turn to smugglers.
The EU and member states can do a lot more to protect children and address their particular needs and vulnerabilities.

Addressing the Forum, the Child Rights Agencies call for deliberate action; leadership, public investment and an agreed policy framework that defines goals and measures progress, saying protecting children does not just happen on its own.
The 78 partner organisations identify 7 priority actions to protect refugee and migrant children today and prepare them for the future. These actions include the urgent adoption of an EU Action Plan on children in migration, strengthened safeguards for children in the asylum legislation, increased funding for national child protection systems and building mechanisms to protect children across borders.
The agencies say that actions at the EU level have so far been scattered and insufficient. What is needed now, they say, is comprehensive action on children in migration, bringing together all responsible authorities and encouraging states to better collect and share data.

The reform of the common European asylum system, currently debated in the European Parliament, provides a unique opportunity to ensure children get access to guardians, education and family reunification. EU Action is also needed to end the detention of migrant and refugee children, and the identification of alternatives.

Many of these children will grow up becoming future EU citizens. They should be considered as children first, regardless of their migration status. States need to invest in them, and empower them to fulfil their potential as equal participants in their communities.

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On 17 November AITIMA participated to the meeting of PICUM Working Group on Undocumented Children and Families which took place in Brussels.
PICUM also released the collection of children testimonies "Hear our voices"

During the period 5-9 November the Head of Ngo AITIMA Spyros Rizakos had meetings on the occeasion of the release of AITIMA's report on administrative detention "Forgotten" as well as the recent developments regarding the management of the refugee issue by Greece and EU in general.
More specifically there were meetings with the EU Commission's Return and Asylum Units as well as with the Members of the European Parliament SKA KELLER, BIRGIT SIPPEL,NATALIE GRIESBECK and ANAMARIA GOMES

The period when refugees massively transited Greece on their way to central and northern Europe was succeeded by the gradual closure of the Balkan route and the implementation of the policy marked by the EU-Turkey Joint Statement. Thus, since last March the approximately 60.000 refugees who had already entered and continued entering Greece with the aim of moving on to other European states suddenly realized that they had to stay in Greece. Most of the refugees who had come to Greece before March 20 – approximately 50.000 persons – are now staying in the mainland, whereas the other 10.000 who crossed our borders after 20 March are obliged by the authorities to stay on the islands.
Today, seven months after these developments, the situation that has been formed raises serious concerns.
Despite the Greek authorities’ efforts, a big part of the refugees located in the mainland are still accommodated in temporary camps which do not meet the standards for dignified living conditions. At the same time, there is significant delay in the registration and examination of the asylum applications.
The approximately 10.000 refugees located on the islands face the above but also other more acute problems. On the one hand, their number exceeds the capacity of the Reception and Identification Centers (usually referred to as hot-spots) – something which results in degraded living conditions – and on the other hand, their asylum applications are being registered and examined with serious delay as well. However, the situation gets even worse in their case by the fact that they are not allowed to leave the islands and, most importantly, by the serious possibility of their readmission to Turkey, where their rights are not respected.
It comes naturally that this situation causes impatience, frustration and nervousness to the refugees, a big number of whom qualify to be transferred to another European country by virtue of the family reunification and relocation procedures. Their protests are becoming more and more frequent. Especially on the islands, where the problems are more acute, these protests become even more intense, often leading up to damages of the facilities and violent incidents with the security forces.
At the same time the situation that has been shaped obviously has a great impact on the dynamics developing in the local communities. The impact on the islands is even graver, where more than 10.000 refugees have been stranded for more than seven months because of the EU-Turkey Joint Statement. This dead-end situation favors the growth and mobilization of extremist groups which have already organized
demonstrations, that have led up to incidents against refugees and Ngo staff in some cases. Similar phenomena have been tracked in the mainland as well. It is not incidental that racist attacks are being recorded again. It becomes obvious that the potential prolongation of this situation will feed even more this kind of incidents causing dangerous transformations in local societies.
How can we overcome the dead-end situation that has been formed?
The cornerstone for resolving the problem is taking advantage of the existing international, EU and national legal frameworks that regulate the examination of the asylum applications. If we implement it rigorously – uninfluenced by the expediencies and the constraints of the current European politics– we will ensure refugee rights while at the same time safeguarding social cohesion.
The first step towards this objective must be the fast registration of the asylum applications as well as the fastest possible processing of the family reunification and relocation cases. Thus, a big part of the refugees who are stranded at the moment in Greece would be transferred to other European countries. It is baffling that this has not constituted the Greek authorities’ priority from the very beginning, since it would unquestionably facilitate the offering of more adequate reception conditions to the refugees and would blunt the tensions.
The second step should be the fair examination of the asylum applications which would lead to the regularization of the refugees and subsequently to their social integration. Although this step seems very simple and self-evident, the fair examination of the asylum requests submitted on the islands has been compromised after the EU-Turkey Joint Statement. This happens because these requests are mainly rejected as inadmissible by the Greek authorities on the premise that Turkey, from where the refugees came, constitutes a first country of asylum or a safe third country to which they can be readmitted. At this point, it should be stressed that all human rights organizations in Greece and Europe agree that the EU-Turkey Joint Statement and Turkey’s classification as a first country of asylum or a safe third country contravene with both international and the EU law. Even more so when the situation in Turkey has deteriorated significantly since the latest developments, at which time it also suspended the enforcement of the European Convention of Human Rights. The fair examination of the merits of asylum applications submitted on the islands-which is in accordance with international, EU and national law- will relieve the very exacerbated situation prevailing there, since the asylum applications will be considered admissible and the refugees will be allowed to leave the islands.
Let us all hope that the competent authorities will come to the realization that their action must be swift and coordinated in that very direction, so that no more precious time is wasted!

Today AITIMA released the new report FORGOTTEN: Administratively detained irregular migrants and asylum seekers.

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The event was attended by Ministry officials, journalists and Civil Society Organizations’ representatives.