The Search for Durable Solutions in a Child's Best Interests
This chapter now turns to an examination of the search for meaningful access to durable solutions for refugee children in the midst of the current “crisis.” Emphasis is placed on resettlement, the possibility of family reunification, and other admission pathways into Europe.
Meaningful Access by Children to Traditional Durable Solutions
Resettlement in the European Union denotes the selection and transfer of refugees from the state in which they have sought protection to a third member state that has agreed to admit them with permanent residence or another status. Three aspects of resettlement related to providing a meaningful solution for refugee children are examined: first, regular resettlement programs by member states of the EU; second, commitments to increased resettlement under the Agenda for Migration; and finally, resettlement under the EU-Turkey Agreement.
A limited number of European member states regularly resettle small numbers of refugees, mainly the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark, with other states resettling refugees on an ad hoc basis. In 2015, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden resettled around 2300 refugees in total (Eurostat 2016d). Resettlement commitments and benefits are imbalanced and not consistent between member states. Rights granted to resettled refugees vary. On the one hand, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom confer a permanent residence permit and full refugee or subsidiary protection status. On the other, Germany provides a temporary residence permit without the full array of legal benefits for refugees.
Despite the fact that established criteria governing resettlement can specifically target refugee children, including girls at risk, family reunification, or unaccompanied minors, few member states specifically focus their programs on needs of children (UNHCR 2011). A notable exception is found in the United Kingdom, which has announced the planned resettlement of 3000 individuals—mainly children from refugee camps in the Middle East and North Africa, with an emphasis on Syrian chil- dren—over the next four years (UK Parliament 2016a). Although the political passage of the implementing legislation has been troubled and the criteria for selecting children remain under development, it has been indicated that focus may be placed on children at risk, including unaccompanied or separated children (UK Parliament 2016b). Despite signifying progress, this program may only benefit several hundred refugee children in its first years, and it may not provide solutions to refugee children within Europe.
Recently, international forums have aimed at increasing resettlement pledges, especially for Syrian refugees, including children. The March 2016 High-Level Meeting on Global Responsibility Sharing through Pathways for Admission of Syrian Refugees sought to expand pathways for admission of Syrians, including resettlement. Some 15,000 placements were pledged. In Europe, Sweden committed to 5000 a year by 2018 and France to 1980 (UNHCR 2016d). However, it remains to be seen whether commitments will be fulfilled. A High-Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on addressing large movements of refu?gees and migrants is planned for September 2016 with a similar objective of increasing resettlement pledges.
The European Agenda for Migration includes a nonbinding proposal for a resettlement scheme that is tied to additional funding to member states for each resettled refugee. This scheme is capped at 20,000 places distributed across member states over two years. According to the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Francois Crepeau: “[T] he number of resettlement places initially envisaged seems utterly insufficient ... 20,000 places in the EU regional block is not an adequate response to the current crisis” (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 2015a). Even for these places, implementation has been limited at best with the European Commission issuing calls to member states to execute their commitments (European Commission 2015c, 2016b).
A principal element of the EU—Turkey Agreement is that for every Syrian person returned to Turkey from Greece, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to Europe. At the end of April 2016, around 350 Syrians were resettled from Turkey to Europe under this Agreement (IOM 2016). This so-called “one-for-one” mechanism has attracted considerable criticism from commentators who argue that it blurs the lines between resettlement as a durable solution and states merely moving individuals around (Costello 2016). With the aim of incentivizing “waiting” in long queues in countries of asylum, priority is given to refugees who have not previously entered or tried to enter Europe.
From a child rights perspective, the focus on Syrian refugees to the exclusion of other refugee children residing in Turkey may conflict with Article 2 of the CRC. Resettlement under this Agreement is to be carried out at first by honoring the commitments of member states under the European Agenda on Migration to resettle 20,000 individuals. Thereafter, any further need for resettlement follows a voluntary arrangement, restricted to 54,000 refugees (Council of the European Union 2016). As a result, any contribution to international protection is rendered negligible. According to European refugee law scholar, Cathryn Costello (2016), this scheme may tarnish the integrity of resettlement as a durable solution.
For refugee children, caps on voluntary places, the link between the proposed 20,000 places under the Agenda on Migration, and resettlement under the recent deal between Turkey and the EU, coupled with lengthy processing times in countries of asylum, may render this durable solution illusory and inaccessible. In light of this, other legal pathways into Europe must be explored.