By Lydia O'Kane
Five years ago the photo of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi shocked the world. Alan lost his life in a shipwreck in a desperate attempt to reach Europe and forced the world to wake up to the plight of refugees.
In those intervening years, 200,000 unaccompanied foreign minors have made the perilous journey to Europe seeking asylum; and some 700 children including infants have died in the process.
The grim figures are contained in a new report by Save the Children Italy, entitled Protection Beyond Reach, which homes in on 5 key themes: protection at Europe’s outer borders; immigration detention; access to asylum and residency; family reunification; and guardianship.
The findings show that many unaccompanied minors who come to Europe to seek asylum arrive from Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea and have ended up in Germany, Greece, Italy and Sweden.
While some minors have been guaranteed safety and protection, the report highlights that many others face obstacles in obtaining refugee status: they live in constant fear of being expelled or detained and are denied the possibility of reuniting with family members living elsewhere in Europe.
The document notes that following the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, the European Union has struggled to find a common response to the so-called “refugee crisis.”
It adds that “new policies have been proposed, but very few have come to fruition.”
In 2016 the EU and Turkey agreed a deal that led to a significant reduction in the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe.
But the Save the Children document points out that “tens of thousands of people – including thousands of children – remain stranded on the Greek islands in inhumane conditions.” More than 2,000 minors alone landed in Italy in 2020.
It also says arrivals by sea from northern Africa have been unrelenting and “children continue to drown on the EU’s watch.”
Save the Children’s call
Pending the EU's upcoming "Pact for Asylum and Migration," which is being seen is an opportunity for the EU to re-balance its approach to migration management by enhancing legal pathways to Europe, Save the Children is calling for children's rights to be at the centre of these decisions, and for the EU and its leaders to ensure that measures are taken to guarantee the safety of vulnerable children.
The report stresses that children must have immediate access to asylum and protection once they arrive in Europe, rather than being rejected; and be reunited with their families. Unaccompanied minors must also have access to a guardian within 24 hours.
Only legal migration routes, Save the Children says, can prevent children and adolescents from dying on their way to Europe.