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Open Eyes Opinion {source: UNICEF}

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Statement

On the Day of International Migration, UNICEF says children need urgent solutions, solidarity

Statement by Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Special Coordinator, Refugee and Migrant crisis in Europe 

GENEVA, 18 December 2015 – “The year, 2015, will be remembered for the heart-breaking image of a lifeless little boy on a beach – one of many who came before him; one of many who came after him. It was a year that saw hundreds of thousands of children and their families on the move leaving behind horrors, on an odyssey of hope through Europe. It was the year of mass displacement. And there is no end in sight.

To make 2016 a better year for children, we must better focus on their needs. They are the least responsible for this crisis yet they are paying the highest price.

Last year, 2014, was the most devastating year on record for children. Around the world – from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan, Yemen and beyond, millions of children were victims of terrible brutality and forced recruitment; deprived of learning and exposed to unspeakable loss. Many were killed. Many more were robbed of their childhoods.

It was only a question of time until this crisis played out on the seas, on the borders, and the backyards of Europe in 2015. For 2014 was indeed the year where the seeds were sown for a year that saw hundreds of thousands of children uprooted and on the move reached Europe.

To date, nearly a million people, a third of whom are children, have made the treacherous journey to Europe. Some 500 children have lost their lives at sea. Countless more have lost loved ones, left homes and communities. They have suffered terrifying boat-crossings and unpredictable border closures.

The scale and speed of this crisis is an unprecedented challenge for Europe. The impact on children is also unprecedented. This is a children’s crisis. Our response must be focused on those children first and foremost.

Babies need stability and nourishment. Toddlers who have escaped bombings need to feel safe in homes. Young girls who are at risk of sexual violence need protection. Children with disabilities need specialized equipment and medical attention. Boys whose families’ expectations rest on their shoulders need help. Children who have been deprived of school for years and do not speak a European language need to start learning.

Counting child refugees and migrants, and supporting them, is a shared responsibility. And UNICEF is ready to do its share. We are working in areas where we have previously not operated. Countries, such as Germany, have asked for our expertise, which we are ready to provide to other countries as well.

From our joint assessment with the German Government, we know that children and women in temporary accommodation centres are at risk of falling between the cracks of the protection systems, potentially facing harm and neglect. So, we will work to strengthen the protection of children in reception and accommodation centres; support learning and play opportunities in Child Friendly Spaces to help children heal; and share technical know-how when it comes to monitoring children’s rights and strengthening data systems — because supporting children effectively depends on having real-time, accurate data.

This crisis is an opportunity for all countries in Europe to make noble commitments and international conventions meaningful – the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the 1951 Convention on Refugees and its Protocol. To respect basic human dignity and the principle of ‘non refoulement.’ To uphold the foundation values of the European Union and the core principles of its Human Rights legislation. For it is in times of crisis that values are most tested – as we have seen before.

This crisis reminds UNICEF of its roots. For it was here, in Europe, in 1946, that we started our own journey – providing emergency food and healthcare to children after the war. As part of the United Nations, UNICEF will continue to stand with European governments and support children at every step of the way — in their countries of origin, transit and once they have reached their destination.

But lasting solutions must be political. Leaders must broker peace in the countries from which these children are fleeing — lest we lose a generation

For now, they have reached safety. Next, we must protect them and help them go to school; keep them healthy, help them recover from their trauma, counsel them and give them the chance to play.

So, let us all be by their side as they take their first steps in the New Year. Let us all give them the future for which they risked their lives. And let us all rise to the challenge so that when history judges us, as it will, 2016 will be remembered as the year migrant and refugee children began to heal and rebuild, thanks to political solutions and solidarity.”

{source: UNICEF}

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About UNICEF
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

[photo credits: By Robert Cotič [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

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