We must protect children at the borders of Europe | See
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On September 2, 2015, three-year-old Alan Kurdi lost his life just off the coast of Turkey. The images of his corpse have become a tragic symbol of the human cost of the EU’s inhumane response to migration.
It was hoped that the story of Alan – sadly one of too many children who died during the perilous journey to find safety in Europe – would spur change in the European migration and asylum system so that children migrants and refugees are better protected.
Six years later, children on the move are often even worse off. Stricter border policies, both at the EU border and between EU countries, have led to an increase in violence and other abuses against children.
Europe’s external borders – in Greece, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria and Slovenia – have for years been a cemetery for children under EU surveillance.
This year alone, 1,600 people, including dozens of children, have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean as they tried to reach Europe from North Africa or Turkey.
Today, children are freezing to death on the eastern borders of Europe. They continue to drown while trying to cross the Channel. The death toll increases on the Atlantic route between West Africa and the Canary Islands.
What prompts a child to leave the house?
Children represent a significant proportion of those seeking a new life in Europe. In November of this year, 27.1% of migrants arriving by sea in the Mediterranean were women or children.
Academics also speak of the “infantilization of migration”: more and more children are forced to leave their country of origin, with one in eight migrants in the world being a child.
Like adults, children and young people leave their homes for different reasons: to flee war, conflict or overwhelming poverty, for environmental reasons such as after natural disasters, or to escape human rights violations and abuses.
Although the reasons for migrating may vary, they all share the same situation. No one would attempt a long and dangerous journey if they had a better option.
Leaving one’s country to seek asylum in another is not a decision taken lightly. For people on the move, it means that the situation is so dire that parents have had no choice but to risk the lives of their children, as the alternative at home is worse and unbearable.
Children’s experiences with migration
In search of a better future, children go through unimaginable journeys and too often experience more violence and exploitation – especially those who have been separated from their parents or guardians.
When they reach a safe place, these children are often faced with criminal-type treatment, seen as a “hybrid threat” or “danger to national security” – as if they were a squad of troops. commandos of a hostile nation, ready to attack and threaten Europe civilization.
Dehumanizing language and general characterization of people on the move are just some of the key ingredients leading to violence and mass atrocities.
The erection of barbed wire fences at the region’s borders, with security forces carrying out illegal push-backs, has now become the new normal: something unimaginable just a few years ago.
Children are children, not threats. Whatever the circumstances, all children have the right to safety, protection and a future.
While protecting Europe’s borders, we must also protect children fleeing for their lives, stranded at borders, living in dire conditions, turned back to the woods or to the sea, and facing separation and detention. .
Children and families more at risk of rupture
To compound the already inhospitable migration policies, the recent situation at the EU’s eastern external border has led to substantial changes in national asylum legislation.
Some of these changes are incompatible with the EU asylum acquis, fundamental rights enshrined in EU treaties and international law.
Save the Children, along with more than 100 other NGOs, has raised concerns over this disturbing national trend, seeking a firm rejection of the European Commission’s rhetoric.
Instead, the Commission filed a number of waivers. These unprecedented proposals do not only diminish important safeguard procedures for children; they risk exposing migrant children to systematic detention. These measures are neither proportionate nor useful in providing support to the countries concerned.
Instead, the EU must reorient its efforts to restore respect for international law and invest more heavily in providing solutions, while ensuring the humane treatment of children and families.
Renewed collective political commitment is needed to use existing mechanisms for sharing responsibility, such as voluntary relocation and family reunification procedures, to protect people on the move.
Resettlement policies, rooted in the region’s long-standing commitments to the well-being of children, recognition and support of the best interests and unique needs of each child, should be prioritized, along with rapid family reunification procedures.
In addition, safe and legal migration routes, including resettlement and family reunification, could prevent more children from dying en route to Europe.
It’s time for Europe to honor its own values
Fifteen EU member states recently pledged to assist 60,000 refugees, including 40,000 Afghans, through resettlement and humanitarian admission by the end of 2022. A good step in the right direction, but it must be intensified.
Finally, migrant children must not be used for political ends. The EU must show an unwavering commitment to treating those in need as human beings, and not as political props. Their right to seek asylum in safety must be guaranteed.
The dismantling of its standards by the EU is a timely reminder to approach the complex issue of migration with solidarity and justice.
Instead of entering the ‘era of walls and barbed wire’ and strengthening ‘Fortress Europe’, the EU should continue to be the global torchbearer for the rule of law and human rights , just as its own core values dictate. The direction of EU policies will cost the lives of even more children.
Anita Bay Bundegaard is the director of Save the Children Europe and previously its representative at the UN in Geneva. She is a former Danish Minister for Development Cooperation and former Advisor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.