MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The ill, punitive and callous treatment of many child refugees who have fled to the United States has been widely documented on Truthout. A recent New Yorker article by Lauren Collins documents that this is also an endemic problem in Europe:
Among the 1.3 million people who sought asylum in Europe in 2015 were nearly a hundred thousand unaccompanied children. Most were from Afghanistan and Syria. Thirteen per cent were younger than fourteen years old. The data for 2016 are incomplete, but the situation is comparable. Experts estimate that for every child who claims asylum one enters Europe without seeking legal protection. (The number of unaccompanied minors attempting to enter the United States, most of them from Central America, has also increased dramatically in recent years....) At an age at which most kids need supervision to complete their homework, these children cross continents alone.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Collins writes, the "best interests" of child refugees are supposed to be the foremost priority in how they are treated. The reality, Collins observes, is far different -- and devastatingly destructive:
As a result, refugee children are sleeping on sidewalks and in traffic medians. They are stuck in unofficial settlements like the [infamous refugee camp near Calais, France], whose conditions have been described as “dreadful” (the British Red Cross), “deplorable” (Save the Children), “totally inappropriate” (the European Council on Refugees and Exiles), and “diabolical” (Doctors of the World), or in holding centers such as Amygdaleza, in Greece, where, according to Human Rights Watch, “the detention of children in crowded and unsanitary conditions, without appropriate sleeping or hygiene arrangements, sometimes together with adults and without privacy, constitutes inhumane and degrading treatment.” The children at such places confront a number of dangers: vermin, feces-contaminated water, bullying, petty crime, violence, sexual abuse, and diseases ranging from scabies to tuberculosis.
Collins also notes that since 2014, more than 10,000 of these migrant and refugee children have simply "gone missing."
European nations, particularly those in the wealthier north, have been, for the most part, miserly in admitting children who are fleeing war zones. (Germany and Sweden have been slightly more welcoming than other countries, which isn't saying a lot.)
Just today, Alan Travis of the Guardian wrote about the controversial last stage in a resettlement program in the United Kingdom:
New Home Office criteria to fill the last 150 places under the Dubs scheme to bring lone refugee children in Europe to Britain have been sharply criticized by charities and campaigners.
The department has said only children who arrived in Europe before 20 March 2016 will be eligible for the remaining places before the scheme is closed in April.
Ministers have capped the total number to be brought to Britain at 350, well below expectations of 3,000 when parliament approved Lords Dubs’ amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act in May last year.
Yes, with tens of thousands of lone-child refugees dispersed in harrowing conditions across Europe, the UK is officially willing to admit less than 400 of them. Even then, the numbers actually admitted to the UK are suspect. Travis quotes the field manager for a child-refugee advocacy group saying that "the bill was passed in May last year and to date not one child has been transferred under its auspices from Greece."
Over half of the world’s refugees are children. Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home, sometimes separated from their families. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment.
UNICEF also estimates that around the world nearly 50 million children are refugees or migrants. The token gesture of nations such as the UK does little to mitigate the crisis.
It is important to note that most children -- and adults -- categorized as migrants are actually refugees from untenable and/or dangerous political, economic or social living situations. The distinction made by governments between refugees and migrants is frequently used as a vehicle for refusing aid to and deporting those deemed "migrants" instead of "refugees."
As conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere continue -- and the planet continues to warm -- the plight and number of lone-child refugees in Europe is not likely to abate anytime soon. This is worsened by the intransigence, hostility or at best indifference of most European nations to children seeking a safe harbor.