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UNICEF urges EU leaders and Turkey to find common ground for refugee and migrant children

2016-03-18

GENEVA/TORONTO, March 18, 2016 – With the lives of more than 20,000 children in Greece and in the Balkans on hold, UNICEF urges leaders of the European Union and Turkey to find common ground for refugee and migrant children when reaching an agreement that could have serious consequences for them. 

“UNICEF is concerned that returning refugee and migrant children to an uncertain future in Turkey could be deeply distressful and damaging for them,” said Marie Pierre Poirier UNICEF’s Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe. “Common ground that puts children’s best interests first and is fully aligned with international law, needs to be found. That means putting in place minimum measures that secure children’s basic needs, and protect their fundamental rights.”

Children now make up more than 40 percent of the 43,000 people in Greece trying to move northwards through the Balkans where thousands more remain unable to go forward or back. Uncoordinated border closures have left thousands of children stranded in makeshift tents in Idomeni on the Greek border, where children are now in the majority, and hundreds more stuck in unsanitary conditions along the Balkan route. 

EU leaders’ commitment encouraging, but more needed

UNICEF is encouraged that EU leaders have expressed a commitment to determining the individual status of refugees and migrants rather than resorting to collective expulsions, push-back practices or other measures that may be harmful to children.

UNICEF recommends the following measures to keep children safe:

  • Every child has the right to claim international protection, a right that has to be respected. Any application for asylum submitted by a child should be considered on its own merits as criteria that force children to flee their home countries are broader than for adults.
  • Regardless of migration status, a child should never be returned if such a decision results in violations of the rights of the child. 
  • Children should never be detained for the sole reason of their migration status - not in transit countries, destination countries, nor in countries to which they might be returned.
  • Alternative, safe and legal pathways should be sought as sudden border closures expose children to smugglers and traffickers and force them to embark on more dangerous routes.

By taking these fundamental steps, European leaders will demonstrate that Europe is living up to its ideals and principles and that every child arriving on its shores will be treated accordingly.

Note to Editors:

Between January and November 2015, out of 1,201,970 applications for asylum among European Union Member States, 433,203 of them were submitted by children. 

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Broadcast quality photos and b-roll available here.

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca. For updates, follow us on Twitter and Facebook or visit unicef.ca.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.