New report: Pushbacks, violence and humiliation for migrant children crossing European borders – World


ROME, 17 June 2021 — Migrant children traveling alone continue to face abuse and pushbacks at borders arriving to and through Europe, according to a new report from Save the Children, as the number of children unaccompanied migrants is skyrocketing.

With the onset of warmer weather, there has been a substantial increase in the number of children crossing European borders. Between April and May 2022 alone, there was a 329% increase in the number of unaccompanied children in Oulx and Clavière in Italy, trying to cross the border across the mountain range into France. Across Italy in Trieste on the Slovenian border, that number has increased by 58%.

These journeys to and through Europe can last for months or even years, with children walking through woods and mountain ranges, often at night.

Migrant children continue to be rejected at borders and sent back to non-European countries, as well as to Italy from France, but many try again, sometimes up to 20 times, until they successfully cross – often in dangerous and desperate ways. There are reports of teenagers dying while traveling abroad and in Europe, being electrocuted by trains, or being involved in accidents on their way.

Children traveling alone are at increased risk of abuse, mistreatment, exploitation and violence, including trafficking. At the external borders of Europe, the testimonies of violent and humiliating treatment are numerous and poignant.

Javed*, a 17-year-old Afghan who crossed the border from Turkey to Bulgaria said:

“The police released the dog on me, it pulled me and I started screaming because it had bitten my foot twice. […]. They gathered around the fire to drink wine and made us lie naked on our backs. (…) They made us lie on the ground in the cold and laughed at us.”

In April 2022, there were 14,025 unaccompanied foreign minors in the Italian reception system, according to data from the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies. The majority are boys, and almost 70% are between 16 and 17 years old. Children from Ukraine currently represent the largest number at around 28%, followed by children from Egypt, Bangladesh, Albania, Tunisia, Pakistan, Ivory Coast and Afghanistan.

Although those fleeing Ukraine make up the majority of new arrivals in Italy, they are often hosted by relatives or host families and are free to cross European Union borders without refoulement. There is a stark contrast in the treatment of children from other countries.

Raffaela Milano, Director of Italy-Europe Programs at Save the Children Italy, said:

“Refugees from Ukraine, with admirable solidarity, are welcomed at railway crossings with donations of food, clothing and dignified treatment that brings honor to Italy and Europe. But in northern Italy, abandoned clothes, documents and other objects bear witness to the passage of people alike fleeing deprivation and violations of their rights, but coming from other states, forced to travel in the shadows, crossing borders in the dark at a Europe that closes its doors to them.”

The report, *Hidden in Plain Sight,* is based on interviews with migrant children along the border routes of northern Italy. The children’s testimonies were collected by Save the Children in collaboration with journalist Daniele Biella. Between April and May 2022, the research team traveled to Trieste, the entry point to Italy for those arriving by the so-called Balkan route, as well as to two other border areas in northern Italy: to Oulx, Clavière and Ventimiglia, on the border with France.

In a deeply changed global scenario, there are clear traces of a two-tier refugee response in Europe, which is ready to open arms and doors to a population fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, but at the same time dark, brutal and ready to use unwarranted force against defenseless people, “guilty” of not having valid papers to enter, in fact in the same way needing a place to take refuge.

Save the Children asks the European Commission to adopt a recommendation to Member States for the adoption and implementation of policies to ensure the full protection of unaccompanied minors at Europe’s external and internal borders and in the territories Member States, promoting their well-being and their psycho-physical development through strategies aimed at school and training integration and the acceleration of procedures concerning unaccompanied minors, including family reunification.

We also call on European governments to refrain from using practices that wrongly distinguish refugee categories, respecting international law and the principle of non-refoulement, allowing access to all asylum seekers, and extend established good practices.



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