President laments lack of effective solidarity mechanisms on migration among EU states‘

Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca called for more appropriate strategies to ensure that migrant children were accepted and integrated into society

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca called for more strategies to effectively care for children crossing the Mediterranean in search of a better life
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca called for more strategies to effectively care for children crossing the Mediterranean in search of a better life

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca was hopeful in her opening speech to delegates at the third edition of the Lost in Migration Conference, saying she believed a difference could be made to children traversing the Mediterranean in spite of the lack of solidarity among the EU member states.

“We must address the unacceptable lack of efficient national protection systems, and the ineffective solidarity being shown amongst EU Member States when it comes to the protection of migrant children,” she said.

She said this wasn’t limited to delays in migrants being granted asylum, but also delays in determining the status of stateless children. This, she said, further compounds the difficulty of assuring their rightful protection.

The President added that strategies for social inclusion for refugee and migrant children “must be prioritised as part of their effective integration into our communities and societies”.

Current Missing Children Europe data shows that over 30,000 unaccompanied children went missing between 2014 and 2017, with Coleiro Preca saying that 95% of all migrant children were unaccompanied.

Coleiro Preca expressed her satisfaction at the adoption of the European Commission Communication on the Protection of Children in Migration in 2017 which she said was the direct result of the first edition of the Lost in Migration Conference.

She lamented the fact, however, that this Commission was under-utilised, adding that such instruments needed to be more visible in order to be effective.

“I am convinced that we all believe that prevention of unsafe migration and the subsequent horrendous trafficking of children is the first step to effectively tackle the issue of unaccompanied migrant children,” she said.

Coleiro Preca added that the involvement of countries of origin as well as transit countries was fundamental to an effective strategy.

For this reason, she argued, the participation of colleagues from Africa—members of the Nigerian Youth Integrated Development and the Tunisian Defence for Children among others—was a “ground-breaking opportunity…in our vision for the future of children migrating to Europe.”

Coleiro Preca said that “the spirit of solidarity” is what the European Union should be all about as she recounted one particular experience.

“I will always remember Mohammed, a seven-year-old Syrian boy… saved by the sea by a young Syrian man making the same voyage in 2013. I will always remember the smile on Mohammed’s face when he was finally reunited with his uncle and paternal family,” she said, adding that the security and stability which comes with a family can never be replaced.

“It is the right of each and every child to feel safe and protected by their families,” she said.

Coleiro Preca congratulated the efforts of Missing Children Europe, especially for launching the Miniila app, which was developed in collaboration with children and which provides real-time and regionally specific information, allowing children to find out about essential services in their own language.

Panel Discussion

The President then chaired a panel discussion where she said that asylum seekers could be the future motivators of the economy.

“We all have a debilitating workforce in our countries due to a low birth rate and refugees could supplement the workforce,” she said, adding that she had hope in civil society activists stimulating several conversations on several issues related to migrant communities.

Director of the IM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean, Federico Soda, said that it would be wrong to assume that migrant children is an issue in just the Mediterranean.

“Migrating children is an increasing concern in a number of areas around the world… the Central American corridor is an extremely dangerous territory, the Horn of Africa, places like Djibouti, Asia with its major issues of labour and sexual exploitation of children—these difficult dynamics exist all around the world,” Soda said.

He said that perhaps the situation in the Mediterranean was the most complex and with Europe being the “largest economic block in the world”, it should be doing better in tackling the issue.

Executive Director of the European Asylum Support Office, Jamil Addou, said that a lot of problems for migrant children arise when they set foot on a European country, not just while travelling.

“Migration officials are often not sufficiently trained to interview children for example. We do provide extensive training but we need further support. We also cannot fix a system if we do not have a clear picture of what the issues are and if these are not reported,” he said.

Soda, in agreement, said that the protection systems in Europe were failing, either because the processing was too slow or because officials did not understand how to deal with migrant children and adolescents. “They want to work,” he said, “not wait in a centre or in a classroom.”

The panel consisted also of Caterina Chinnici, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats at the European Parliament and AD MEP candidate Mina Tolu.

In response to questions, Tolu said that political actions in Europe and the colonial history of Europe was still largely forgotten by European member states.

“It is a history that we still have to contend with and we do not hear enough of it on a political level,” she said.