The refugee and migrant influx into Europe continues. Since January 2015 approximately 1.2 million people have journeyed across the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe. The majority arrive in Europe by sea, while almost 34,900 refugees and migrants arrived by land. These individuals are fleeing economic and social breakdown such as conflict, violence, and poverty, with the largest numbers leaving Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
The crisis has had a substantial impact on children. UNICEF’s advocacy brief on the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe describes this crisis as a “children’s crisis.” By the end of December 2015, 1 in 3 refugees and migrants in Europe were children. And, based on arrivals in Europe since January 1, 2016, 27% were children.
Especially vulnerable are unaccompanied children. Children are among the most at risk of refugees and migrants – at risk of trafficking, exploitation, abuse, death, rape, and detention, among others. Unaccompanied children are those under the age of 18 years old and travelling alone. In 2015, approximately 25% of child asylum claims were made by unaccompanied and separated minors. However, it is difficult to gather accurate numbers of unaccompanied children because either they are not registering at borders or the country does not allow for their identification in formal registration procedures.
So, what is global community’s responsibility in addressing the issue of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children? According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the protection of unaccompanied children is a state obligation. One response to the problem of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children arriving in Europe was that of the United Kingdom, which passed the Immigration Act 2016, Section 67. The Act specifies that the “Secretary of State must… make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe.” It further specifies that the number of children to be resettled will be determined by the government in consultation with local authorities. The Act does not specify a fixed number on arrivals in order to assess the local governments capacity and ability to help. The purpose is to resettle unaccompanied refugee children who have fled conflict in the Middle East and whom it is in their best interest to be transferred to the UK.
Although there are real considerations as to capacity and ability of countries to help unaccompanied refugee children, a greater effort should be made by the global community in collaboration with one another and individually to assist this especially vulnerable population as well as the refugee and migrant population as a whole.