Refugee children have the right to survive
2018-04-15 11:11:04 -
Human Rights
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David Stanton
 
To try to understand what has happened in Europe since the crisis began in 2015, we must first examine the context. Poverty, hunger, climate change, war and protracted conflict situations are, and will continue to be, the drivers of mass migration and forced displacement. 
According to UNHCR, there are over 65 million forcibly displaced persons globally, and of these, over 22 million people are classed as refugees. These are the highest ever recorded levels and now surpass the situation that existed at the end of World War II. 
 
Just three countries account for 55 per cent of the world’s refugees – Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. Just 17 per cent of all displaced persons are currently hosted in Europe with more than 50 per cent hosted in Africa and the Middle East. Some 84 per cent of all refugees under the mandate of UNHCR are hosted in developing countries. 
 
 
Children account for approximately a third of the world’s population but over half of all refugees. More than 11 million children are refugees. That is a stark and sobering statistic, which should be at the forefront of our minds when planning and implementing our responses to all refugee situations.
 
At the height of the crisis, in 2015 and 2016, when more than a million people sought protection in the European Union, it soon became apparent that the union was grossly unprepared to deal with a sudden and massive influx of applicants. The union and its member states have a long and proud history of supporting external humanitarian relief efforts; however, for the first time, a humanitarian crisis was developing on Europe’s shores and within its borders. New and innovative measures were quickly required to address the needs of those who were arriving daily and to stop people, many of them families with young children, from undertaking dangerous sea journeys in unsafe vessels and at the mercy of ruthless people smugglers.
 
The European Agenda on Migration was launched to provide a comprehensive response to the crisis and a number of important milestones have been achieved since, including the establishment of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, the EU Trust Fund for Africa, the External Investment Plan, EU Relocation and Resettlement Programmes, and more recently, the Joint African Union-EU-UN Task Force and its Emergency Transit Mechanism from Libya. However, more is required and there is no room for complacency, particularly where the lives and safety of children are concerned.
 
The crisis also exposed the inherent weaknesses in the union’s Common European Asylum System, which is now undergoing systematic reform following the publication of seven legislative proposals by the European Commission in 2016. 
 
A key part of this reform process is ensuring that the special reception and procedural needs of child applicants, be they accompanied or unaccompanied, are embedded in the legislation and, most importantly, will subsequently be implemented in practice.
 
Other important child protection reforms include the early appointment of a representative for unaccompanied minors and access to appropriate education, healthcare, accommodation and other related supports for all children in the protection process.
 
Against this backdrop, the establishment of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme in 2015 and our commitment to accept up to 4,000 asylum seekers and refugees is a modest but meaningful contribution by the State in support of those who most need our protection. In implementing the programme, the Government has responded to the clear will of the people that we focus our support on assisting vulnerable families and children.
 
Children are an especially vulnerable refugee and asylum seeking group. We will continue to prioritise our support for children and families in our current and future plans for resettlement and other forms of humanitarian admission. The promotion and protection of children’s rights should also be a central tenant of the two UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees; which are currently being developed, and of the ongoing EU process to reform the Common European Asylum System.
 
I mentioned earlier that there are more than 11 million child refugees worldwide. Each of these children has their own individual hopes, dreams and ambitions. Each one is entitled to have their rights as set out under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child upheld and to be supported to reach their full potential in all areas of their lives. Every child has the right to life, survival and development. We expect this for our children. We should accept no less for refugee children.
 
 
This is an edited extract from a speech delivered by Minister of State David Stanton at Perilous Passage, the child refugee symposium hosted by the Children’s Rights Alliance in Dublin on 5 April.

 

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