Lone child refugees abandoned by Europe, NGOs say
Aid agencies says unaccompanied children are being abandoned as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced support services to shut across Europe.
European governments are being called on to urgently put into place measures to protect refugees and migrants – in particular lone children – as the coronavirus epidemic sees volunteer numbers plunge and many vital support services close.
Refugee aid groups working with unaccompanied children in France and Greece say urgent help is needed by refugees and unaccompanied minors, whom they say have been effectively abandoned by the authorities.
In France, a group of 24 organisations sent a letter to the French government and the mayors of cities with high numbers of refugees calling on them to provide urgent interventions.
In the letter, the organisations, which include Médecins du Monde and Refugee Rights Europe, say: “The situation of exiled people is unspeakable: lack of accommodation, cold, humidity, stress, fatigue, crowding together in light tents, daily expulsion from places of life, deplorable sanitary conditions.”
The groups say that, in the absence of any other protection measures, the state should provide accommodation and basic food distribution as well as access to hot water and soap to try to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus among the migrant community.
In Greece, organisations working with refugee children across Europe also wrote to senior EU and Greek leaders pressing for urgent action to support families and minors who have arrived in Greece in recent weeks.
The letter says some children are not being properly registered and protected, and requests information on any preparations and protections around coronavirus that have been planned or put in place.
The groups, including the International Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, and the Danish Refugee Council, also called for a raft of protective measures including an end to deportations and pressing forward with relocation and family reunion programs for unaccompanied minors across Europe.
According to the UNHCR, there are currently about 7,000 migrants in Bosnia, with the current crisis on the Greek-Turkish border expected to push thousands more over the border.
Many are located in the camps of Tuzla, Bihac and Velika Kladusa, on the Croatian border, where they live in cramped conditions in abandoned buildings or disused train stations. The heavy snowfall in December and January has made conditions intolerable – all camp residents are living without electricity, heat or drinking water.
Bosnia’s autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation has declared a state of disaster which will enable it to introduce emergency measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus.