“For years, Europe has completely failed to meet the needs of migrant children, including unaccompanied children,” said Anita Bay, Director of Save the Children Europe. “The result has been a shambolic humanitarian response, violations of child rights and a political crisis in the EU. Europe cannot continue to make the same mistakes – it must ensure that children fleeing Afghanistan can seek assistance, claim asylum, and have their rights respected.”
European countries should urgently issue new guidance for Afghans at risk, recognising the dramatic change in the situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women, girls and LGBTQ children and adults, Save the Children said. “All Afghan nationals whose asylum applications have been rejected or are scheduled for deportation must have their cases reviewed in light of the takeover of the country by the Taliban,” Bay added.
The support promised by President Von der Leyen to Afghanistan’s neighbours, who host the vast majority of Afghan refugees, is welcome, and so is the willingness of European governments to resettle certain Afghans. However, this willingness should not be limited to those who had served their military, and need to include vulnerable refugees from Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries.
“Under no circumstances, however, should resettlement be used to justify harsh deterrence measures on Europe’s borders,” said Anita Bay. Bay said using humanitarian aid to push countries to stop refugees from travelling to Europe was immoral and undermined European countries’ obligations under international refugee law. It also failed to recognize that these countries were already struggling to host millions of refugees, and the sometimes difficult conditions for refugees in these countries. “Europe has the resources and capacity to help people from Afghanistan arriving at its borders and offer asylum to those who need it,” said Bay. “What we need is strong leadership to shift deterrence to acceptance. The violence that hundreds of children and families have faced on the EU borders in the last years is unacceptable.”
Increased border protection has led to bottlenecks in Balkan countries, with thousands of children and adults desperately trying to cross borders only to be met with violent, irregular pushbacks.
“The outsourcing of responsibilities must stop. This approach has already created a legal limbo for thousands of refugees on Greek islands, including unaccompanied children,” said Vasilis Papastergiou of Greek Council for Refugees, with whom Save the Children has partnered to assist children on the move in Greece. “They cannot have their asylum claims examined, while Turkey does not accept them back to seek international protection there. Afghans who arrive in Europe and claim asylum – as is their right – must have their cases examined on their individual merits.”
Notes to the editors
Save the Children is an independent, impartial and politically neutral organisation that has worked in Afghanistan since 1976 to deliver life-saving services to children and their families across the country, but has had to temporarily suspend services. The organisation provided health, education, child protection, nutrition and livelihoods services, reaching over 1.6 million Afghans in 2020.