New EU migrant plan "putting children's lives at risk"

UNICEF has warned that the policy will limit basic safeguards and human rights that should be guaranteed to all migrants

New EU migrant plan "putting children's lives at risk"

A person gestures from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, 31-01-2017. Image: UNICEF/Romenzi

Children’s rights organisations have expressed concern after the European Commission adopted a new plan encouraging member states to undertake the “swift return” of migrants.

UNICEF has warned that the policy will limit basic safeguards and human rights that should be guaranteed to all migrants.

In a joint statement, a group of leading children’s charities said the approach will put children’s lives at risk and is in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - which every EU member state has ratified.

It said the policy will lead to automatic return decisions and an increase in forced removals and detention - which are extremely harmful for children and families.

The decision comes in the same week UNICEF issued a new Child Alert report on the Central Mediterranean migration route used to travel from Libya to Italy.

The charity said nine out of ten children who crossed the Mediterranean last year were unaccompanied – with a total of 25,846 children making the journey, which is double the number from 2015.

An estimated 4,579 people died crossing the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy alone last year – including 700 children.

People look out from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre constructed in Libya following an agreement between the Italian and Libyan governments, 31-01-2017. Image: UNICEF/Romenzi

“Returnee children and families are at risk of rejection by their families or local communities in their countries of origin, as well as human rights violations,” reads the statement.

“They often face severe discrimination. They are vulnerable to exploitation, to being recruited by armed groups, or pushed into forced labour.” 

It said the EU policy will only serve to increase the harm caused to children by EU return policies.

Swift return policy

EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: "We need to give protection to those in need, but we must also return those who have no right to stay in the EU.”

“Ensuring that irregular migrants are returned swiftly will not only take pressure off the asylum systems in Member States and ensure appropriate capacity to protect those who are genuinely in need of protection, it will also be a strong signal against taking dangerous irregular journeys to the EU in the first place,” he said.

Image: UNICEF

The charities said there is no evidence that forced removal dissuades people from migrating and warned the new policy will only exacerbate the migration challenges facing the EU.

They said children should never be detained for immigration purposes – even as a last resort - and warned that returning migrants to “unsustainable situations” only leads to further cycles of precarious migration and dangerous journeys.

“Behind the policy decisions and targets to enforce return decisions are the lives of real children and families,” said the statement. “The EU and its member states have long been leaders on children’s rights."

"We urge them to uphold their commitments to all children, regardless of migration or residence status.”