Unaccompanied refugee children are exposed to risk in Balkan

It is estimated that approximately 1300 unaccompanied refugee children and migrants are exposed to risk of exploitation, violence and human trafficking.

Source: B92 Monday, 10.04.2017. | 17:18 -> 17:48

Those risks are threatening due to a more a more restrictive policy of border control and inadequate response of social security system in the states along the so called Balkan route.

This is a conclusion of a report published by international organizations “International Rescue Committee” and Save the children, in cooperation with 10 national and international organizations which are providing assistance to the refugees and migrants.

The report states that the “Social security system in the states along the Balkan route are often unable to identify and provide adequate support to these extremely vulnerable children, among which some are only 9 years old, who are running from war and poverty, traveling thousand kilometers without parents or guardians. These children are often “invisible”, and in some cases, even when identified by the social security system, are being placed in inadequate conditions, in some countries, which also include detention”.

Risks to children traveling in this way are further increased following the implementation of the agreement between the European Union and Turkey, which led to the closure of the borders along the so-called Balkan route. Due to these restrictive measures, unaccompanied children are forced to take desperate moves, thus relaying on traffickers or smugglers, whom they perceive as the only way to continue their travel.

The report further states that in this way some of these children become victims of exploitation, because the smugglers and traffickers are forcing them to work so they earn the money to continue their travel, and they are often being abused.

Under these circumstances the children get neglected and exposed to enormous stress and danger. Even dough they are trying to act boldly, their stories and drawings reveal harrowing details about their experiences on the road, for which they thought, would lead them to safety.

Jelena Besendić from Save the Children says that “The children need comprehensive support adjusted to their needs”. It is almost impossible for them to safely and legally continue their journey towards the EU countries. Many of these children decide to stay outside the system, therefore do not get a support from humanitarian organizations, and then often become targets of traffickers who are using threats to manipulate them.  That is how they become exposed to risk of becoming victims of violence, abuse and exploitation. 

It has also been stated that it is necessary to increase accommodation capacities in all countries along the route, and provide accommodation dedicate exclusively to unaccompanied children.  Even when they are identified as children, unaccompanied minors are often housed in centers with adult refugees whom they don’t know, or in accommodation which is similar to detention, which is being the case in Bulgaria and Hungary.

Unaccompanied child is often assigned caregivers from the center for social work that are unable to provide support in line with applicable standards, because they are simultaneously handling several similar cases, thus being overloaded, lack sufficient experience, or haven’t been trained for working with refugee children and migrants. Some children have also complained about not being familiar with their rights, or with legal options that are available to them. “Every child should get all the help and protection it needs. The governments of the countries along the route have to improve their system of support to this most vulnerable group, but before doing so, we have to ensure that these governments get necessary support and financial means as to be able to handle the crises. The European Union and EU Member States must fulfill the commitments they have made and promise to adequately respond to the needs of these children. This also includes a resettlement of unaccompanied children to the EU countries as well as merging them with their families,” said Ashly Lovett from IRC. “The governments who are doing so, must discontinue with the practice of placing the children in detention, and should assign trained caregivers to unaccompanied children.  If this measures are not implemented, the children who have already suffered traumas due to war, conflict and difficult journey, will be put in even more difficult position, because there is no safe and legal way for them, they are not being adequately protected, and they are desperate to move on.”  The report was coordinated by International Rescue Committee and Save the Children, and its creation was supported by NGOs Atina, Belgrade center for human rights, Center for youth integration, Ideas, Infor park, Novi Sad humanitarian center, Otvorena porta, PIN, Praxis and Terre des hommes.

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