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Europe can no longer ignore plight of children seeking protection - lawyer

President’s foundation director general to address EU Councils

23 January 2017, 3:26pm
Maltese and European authorities should stop labouring under the illusion that asylum-seeking children who go missing have somehow landed in Eden, the director general of the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society is urging.

One in four people currently seeking protection from harm and persecution in the EU are children and Dr Ruth Farrugia is insisting that each State has an obligation to protect children, whatever nationality they happened to be.

“If we agree that children are vulnerable, then there is no argument that they deserve protection. We can no longer remain idle in the face of horror stories about terrible things that children should never have to see or go through,” she said.

This is one of the messages that Farrugia and Delphine Moralis, Secretary General of Missing Children Europe, will jointly deliver during two high-level meetings of the EU Home Affairs and Security, and Justice councils later this week.

The two EU Council meetings are being held in parallel with an international conference taking place in Malta — ‘Lost in Migration’, organised by Missing Children Europe and the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, is being held on Thursday and Friday at San Anton, Palace, Attard.

Farrugia said there was too much apathy and unfortunately, it seemed that missing children were slipping through the cracks without much concern from authorities on where they had ended up.

“Sometimes the attitude has been ‘oh, we’ve got one less child to worry about’; it’s as if we don’t want to dwell on how they may have landed in criminal hands, hoping they had reached their destination safely,” Farrugia said.

She added that these children were falling prey to trafficking, sex slavery and exploitation, which violated Europe’s fundamental rights and the rights of the child.

More than half the children seeking protection in the EU are under the age of 14 and they would have embarked on long, treacherous journeys to eventually end up in countries that are unprepared and often unwilling to take responsibility for their protection and to ensure their rights are respected.

“What pains me the most is that we’re reneging on the basics — if a child asks for protection it’s an adult’s responsibility to provide it,” she added.

According to Europol, at least 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children have disappeared in Europe in 2015 and only a handful have been found since.

These are preventable problems that have to be addressed with urgency in a coordinated and integrated manner, to provide children in migration with the basic protection required for any child. Member states were failing them day by day when not committing and implementing relocation of these children.

“The guardianship system that should serve as a surrogate for these children is failing them,” Farrugia said.

Vision, guidance and leadership are needed to stop fragmented action which puts children at risk.

“We will be urging policymakers to sit up and listen; to work in a more coordinated way. This is an urgent matter and we have no time to waste — the children’s agenda is not necessarily the politicians’ agenda,” Farrugia said.

Among the speakers addressing the two-day conference are: Maud de Boer Buquicchio, President of Missing Children Europe; Atifete Jahjaga, former President of Kosovo; Susan Bissell, Director of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children; Rob Wainwright, Director Europol; and Leila Zerrougui, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

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