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The Link Between Admission Pathways, Family Unity, and Protection: Other Forms of Durable Solutions

International organizations have called for the creation or expansion of humanitarian pathways for admission into Europe. Such pathways aim to provide protection to refugees with compelling needs and include humanitarian admission, private sponsorship, and humanitarian visas. Other pathways for admission relevant to refugee children include academic scholarships and family reunification. An instance of humanitarian admission to Europe benefiting children is found in the extension by the 2014 German Interiors Ministers’ conference on the humanitarian admission program for Syrian refugees by an additional 10,000 places, with priority given to children living alone in refugee camps (Guild et al. 2015). In December 2015, the European Commission proposed a voluntary humanitarian admission scheme for Syrian refugees in Turkey that is yet to be implemented (ibid.).

Under international human rights law, the family represents the fundamental unit of society entitled to protection. Family reunification provides a principal way pursuant to separation caused by forced displacement to ensure respect for a refugees’ right to family unity (Guild et al. 2015). The Directive on Family Reunification, and its adoption of favorable rules for refugees, allows for noncitizens of the European Union, including refugees, to reunite with family members residing in member states. Until recently, this represented a principal pathway into Europe for refugee children. Still, some states have declared that they will restrict the possibilities of family reunification with the objective of stemming arrivals of refugees (European Network of Ombudspersons for Children 2016). For instance, Denmark brought new legislation into force that delays family reunification for refugees, while Germany approved changes to its asylum law, including a two-year ban on family reunification for those holding subsidiary protection status.

Such restrictions disregard both the right to family reunification under the CRC and such visas provide a straightforward use of immigration tools for safe access to Europe by refugee children (Guild et al. 2015). Moreover, there is a powerful link between legal and safe avenues to access protection in Europe and family reunification and children undertaking the sea crossing from Turkey. Deaths at sea may have included children seeking to join immediate family members in Europe. It follows that “organising ways for people to travel legally and safely, through resettlement and family reunion programmes ... should be an absolute priority if we want to reduce the death toll” (UNHCR, UNICEF, and IOM 2016).

It can be concluded that ensuring meaningful access for refugee children to durable solutions may require member states to implement outcomes not evident in the context of migration control. Such outcomes, nonetheless, aim to fulfill the best interests of the child and provide a sustainable and enduring means to protect and ensure the well-being of refugee children.

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