18 July 2019 - Brussels

To protect children’s rights, robust reform of EU rules needed

To protect the rights of children who made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, robust changes of EU rules are needed when it comes to migration, Save the Children said in a statement today.

This week EU Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs convene to discuss the EU’s migration policies. With the renewal of the EU Parliament and Commission, an opportunity arises to break the current stalemate and agree on rules to share responsibility for migrants and refugees arriving at the EU’s borders. Member States should also reiterate their commitment to protect human life at sea and prevent further loss of the lives of children, women and men escaping from Libya.

While fewer refugees and migrants cross the Mediterranean Sea, data shows that more of them are likely to drown – in 2018, 1 in 14 people who made the perilous journey died at sea, while in 2017 it was 1 in 38 people. In the meanwhile, disputes continue to arise about safe disembarkation of migrants, including many children.

As the security situation in Libya deteriorates, refugees and migrants are presented with limited choices: either they are trapped inside Libya, or they escape to the Mediterranean or the Nigerien desert. A minority has been evacuated and resettled by the United Nations to other countries.

Save the Children supports migrant and refugee children in Italy and Spain: we witness the anxiety, fears and disorientation children suffer after being detained in Libya and experiencing distress at sea. The lives of these children and their families should be non-negotiable.

Anita Bay Bundegaard, EU Director and Representative for Save the Children, said:

‘Negotiations on which member state is responsible for asylum-seekers arriving to the EU, also known as the Dublin regulation, have been stalled for too long. We call on the new Parliament, Commission and the Council to restart negotiations and agree on a reform putting the rights of children at the centre. Now is the time for all EU Member States to agree on a sustainable way to share responsibility for incoming asylum seekers, ensuring a fair balance between frontline States such as Italy and Greece, and key asylum-seeker hosting states such as Germany and Sweden.’


Member States should also prioritise the lives of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean, among whom are many children, and cooperate to ensure timely and safe disembarkation of rescued persons. Save the Children emphasizes this should be done in a coordinated and solution focussed manner between the European Commission and EU Member States. 


‘We call on the European Ministers attending this week’s Justice and Home Affairs Council to show that they want to move Europe out of this stalemate and put the safety and dignity of children first.’ 



Notes to editors

-       According to a report by UNHCR, an estimated 2,275 individuals drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2018. This is the equivalent of approximately six people dying on a daily basis every day last year, or one in every fourteen people arriving to Europe. In 2017, this was one for every 38 arrivals.

-       In 2018 Europe saw the lowest number of refugees and migrants arriving by sea in the last five years: namely 114.500 people, principally to Spain (58.600), Greece (32.500) and Italy (23.400). The highest numbers of people arriving in Spain were from Morocco and Guinea (13.000 each), while most of those reaching Italy came from Tunisia (5.200) and Eritrea (3.300). Those reaching Greece were mostly from Afghanistan (9.000) and Syria (7.900)[1]. Since the beginning of 2019, UNHCR has registered about 28,000 sea arrivals to Europe.

-       Frontex numbers indicate that one out of five arrivals at the EU’s external borders in 2018 was a child (nearly 30,000 children) of which 55% were boys and 28% girls (of the remaining proportion the gender was unknown). The Western Mediterranean route saw a 405% rise in arrivals compared to the year before (nearly 5000 children). While the central Mediterranean saw a drop in children arriving, the vast majority of children arriving in Italy or Malta are unaccompanied[2].

-       Save the Children works at disembarkation points in both Italy and Spain. In Spain arrivals have been increasing.

-       Libya remains fragmented and unstable. People who are forcibly returned to Libya or transferred by the Libyan coastguard are likely to be placed in arbitrary detention, abused, tortured or sold into slavery, as indicated by various reports including from OHCHR and UNSMIL. According to UNSMIL, the Libyan Coast Guard intercepted about 29.000 people between early 2017 and August 2018. As of 20 June, 3,018 refugees and migrants were rescued/intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard during 38 operations in 2019.They are generally transferred to immigration detention centres in Libya run by the Department of Combating Illegal Migration. UNHCR’s report, ‘desperate journeys’ also confirms that the Libyan Coast Guard stepped up its operations with the result that 85% of those intercepted in the newly established Libyan Search and Rescue Region (SRR) were disembarked in Libya.

-       There are 52,900 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Libya. The majority are Syrians (44 percent), Sudanese (21 percent), and Eritreans (14 percent). Over the past six months, 1,296 refugees and asylum-seekers departed for solutions out of Libya. Over 1,000 individuals were evacuated by UNHCR through the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) to Italy (295 individuals) and to the Emergency Transit Mechanism in Niger (710 individuals). The GDF is now hosting 460 individuals. Another 291 refugees departed under resettlement programme to third countries or through the Emergency Transit Centre in Romania.

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