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Ref. DC 031(2016)

Protecting refugee children: Secretary General calls on member states to take urgent action

STRASBOURG, 02.03.2016 – Protecting children entering Europe from falling prey to criminals, ending detention of children and improving age assessment procedures are among immediate actions that must be taken by the Council of Europe’s members.

Better ensuring the safety and proper treatment of asylum-seeking and refugee children is the objective of the letter that Secretary General Jagland sent today to Heads of Government of all 47 states of the Council of Europe, together with a document proposing a set of priority measures.

“Providing international protection to children fleeing war, violence and persecution should now be a priority for all European governments,” Jagland wrote in the letter.

Last year an estimated 300,000 children arrived in Europe, many of whom were unaccompanied. One of three of the migrants and asylum seekers crossing between Greece and Turkey is a child. Since last September, an average of two children a day, have drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean. According to Europol, at least 10,000 children have disappeared since the beginning of the crisis. In many countries, asylum-seeking children disappear within just a few days of being placed in reception centres.

Preventing children from falling victim to violence, abuse, exploitation and trafficking must be an absolute priority, Jagland noted.

“The refugee crisis is a trafficker’s paradise. Thousands of children are escaping war only to vanish into the underbelly of European societies. It is difficult to imagine a greater moral imperative than keeping these boys and girls safe,” he said.

It is essential to put in place rapid procedures for appointing legal guardians for unaccompanied children; provide suitable and safe accommodation, in which children are placed under the supervision of adequately trained staff or foster parents.

Children should not be placed in immigration detention centres, apart from in exceptional circumstances and for the shortest period of time. State authorities should pay special attention to the safety of girls who face multiple risks.

Age assessment procedures should be improved: when the age of the child is uncertain the presumption should be that he or she is a minor and should therefore be accorded special protection measures, pending verification of age.

The Secretary General’s Special Representative on Migration and Refugees, Ambassador Tomáš Boček, will shortly be leading fact finding missions to some of the areas which are under most pressure, including Greece and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, to get a complete picture and better identify viable courses of action tailored to suit the present needs.

Contacts:

Daniel Höltgen, Spokesperson of the Secretary General, tel. +33 6 68 29 87 51

Tatiana Baeva, Spokesperson/Media officer, tel. +33 3 88 41 21 41