Children, Durable Solutions, and the Current Refugee Crisis
In 2015 one million people made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in search of safety and a better life (Crawley and Sigona 2016). Of those, 3770 people are known to have died crossing the Aegean and Dodecanese Seas, including Aylan Kurdi mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. This massive population movement is the largest humanitarian disaster to face Europe since the end of World War II.
Another important characteristic of the current phenomenon of population displacement is the increasing diversity of refugees arriving in Europe. By mid-December 2015, 57 % of those who arrived in Greece were from Syria, 24 % from Afghanistan, 9 % from Iraq, and 10 % from other countries. Even though 91 % of those arriving in Greece by sea are from the top 10 “refugee-producing” countries, people of other nationalities have increasingly joined the flow. A small but growing number of individuals from South West Asia and North and West Africa also are moving along the same route in an increasingly desperate attempt to reach Europe.
This flow has included women and men, girls and boys, young and old, single individuals, and whole families. Many among those on the move have specific needs that place them at heightened risk. These include unaccompanied or separated children, single women, pregnant or lactating women, the elderly, people with disabilities, as well as the sick and injured. There are significant numbers of children among the population on the move—both unaccompanied and separated, as well as youngsters traveling with families that require particular attention. For example, children constitute approximately 30 % of the arrivals from Turkey to Greece (see Price, chapter “Enduring Solutions in the Midst of “Crisis”: Refugee Children in Europe”). In total, 250,000 children have been in need of specific protection and assistance in 2015 alone. The “migration crisis” is in fact a crisis of refugee protection.
The international community was caught unprepared for such large numbers of people on the move. National responses were largely inconsistent and uncoordinated. Even though several countries and various civil society organizations have provided humanitarian assistance to these refugees, many other nations closed off their borders and remain unmoved by the plight of those arriving on their doorsteps. The limited initiatives hastily put in place to manage the arrival of refugees and to address their needs remain very unstructured and not always effective. Many efforts— border management through registration, screening, relocation, and return—have not been fully implemented.
As Anhared Price in her chapter “Enduring Solutions in the Midst of “Crisis”: Refugee Children in Europe” points out, the European Union (EU) and its member states have held numerous discussions and taken some initiatives to handle the influx of refugees across the continent— albeit without seriously considering the circumstances and particular needs of children. Civil society, on the other hand, has voiced strong critical views of this oversight in addressing the needs and rights of the youngest refugees, especially those of the girls. As a case in point, the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) issued a report in January 2016, in which they bemoan the fact that the EU Agenda for Migration is not based on a human rights perspective or the use of actions aimed at reducing the risks children face on their journey to and through Europe. In fact, the word child is missing from the document entirely. The network further emphasizes the need for relocation and resettlement schemes agreed to by EU member states to be mindful of the situation of displaced children, and that they be prioritized in their implementation (ENOC 2016).