President urges collaborative effort to strengthen communities in fight against child exploitation

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca urges patrons of the Council of ‘Missing Children Europe’ to engage in European level roundtable meeting about the plight of asylum-seeking children

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca
President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca has urged patrons of the council of ‘Missing Children Europe’ to engage in European level roundtable meeting about the plight of asylum-seeking children in avoiding exploitation.

Speaking at the meeting of the council in Belgium, Coleiro Preca  said that a collaborative effort is crucial to achieve the sustainable strengthening of communities, and to provide opportunities for the development and implementation of improved policy initiatives at both a European and international level.

“Let us concentrate on the particular vulnerability experienced by those who are uprooted from their homes and are fleeing for safety and for their lives,” she said, adding that the plight of asylum-seeking children was one of the issues that Malta aimed to discuss when it has presidency of the EU Council in 2017.

“I invite Missing Children Europe to advocate with the Malta Presidency of the Council of the EU in this regard to give visibility to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children,” she said.

Coleiro Preca also explained that Malta was ready to host a stakeholders’ roundtable meeting to take stock of the current situation and brainstorm proactive initiatives to explore connections between civil society and transnational organisations, and consolidate what each entity is already doing, encouraging added coordination to holistically safeguard vulnerable children.

“It is my firm conviction that we must work together to create a resource and information sharing network, which includes the participation of all stakeholders, if we are to affect results,” she said, suggesting the creation of a pan-regional network that unites and mobilises the participation of major actors, including IOM, UNHCR, the Red Cross, and civil society, alongside EU entities and initiatives like the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Amber Alert Europe.

“Governments must further commit the financial and political good will that is necessary to create a network of stakeholders ready to nurture and maintain the necessary infrastructure that is lacking, or as yet underdeveloped, in so many transit countries, at European entry points and destination countries.”

Coleiro further stressed that the relationship between the phenomenon of migration, and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, in response to violent conflict, could not be ignored. She added that Europol data suggested that thousands of unaccompanied child asylum seekers have disappeared after arrival in Europe, making the need for strategies to address the issue more evident.

“The systematic targeting of the vulnerability experienced by refugees must be challenged,” she said, adding that Europol also reports that unaccompanied child asylum seekers in Europe are at particular risk of sexual exploitation.

“These are issues we must seriously consider if we are to form preventative measures that not only benefit unaccompanied asylum seeking children, but also children who go missing from their communities all across Europe.”

She added that an effective approach required serious thought about how unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are treated upon entry into Europe.

“It is necessary to work together to encourage flexible approaches to the rapidly changing migration crisis, and the large numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children coming to Europe.”

“The reality of missing children cuts across gender and ethnicity. It respects no frontiers, and affects children of all ages. It demands that we consider the wellbeing of the child, and how threats to that wellbeing can be prevented,” she said, adding that the exploitation of children was tantamount to the destruction of a child’s dignity.

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