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Hundreds of Unaccompanied Minors and Children with Families are Trapped in Balkans Facing Pushbacks, Trafficking, and Exploitation-Save the Children

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Feb. 19, 2021)—Refugees and migrants trapped along the Balkans migration route, including some 500 unaccompanied children and 400 children with family who are currently in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are facing increased risks from smugglers, traffickers, and border authorities.

Tighter border controls and pushbacks, both at the EU border and between EU countries, have led to an increase in violence and other abuses against children and other vulnerable people, Save the Children warned today.

As EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson visits Bosnia and Albania to assess the situation of migrants in the border areas of Croatia and Greece, Save the Children calls on the EU to ensure child protection measures are implemented immediately for all migrant children.

The agency urged that ongoing reforms of the EU migration legislation, especially on the sharing of responsibilities, will address the suffering of children who are in search of safety and, often, reunification with family members already living in Europe.

“Pushbacks of migrants, including unaccompanied minors and families with children, happen not only at the borders of the EU, but also between Member States,” said Anita Bay Bundegaard, Director of Save the Children Europe. “It is vital that the EU and its Member States put an end to illegal pushbacks and at the same time prioritize child protection at its borders. The EU needs to implement procedures that guarantee a proper age assessment and ensure the protection of children, and it must allow regular, independent monitoring mechanisms for the reporting of incidents that are accessible by children.”

The EU Commisioner is visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the key transit countries on the Balkans migration route. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, hundreds of identified unaccompanied children and children with families are currently sheltered in reception centers, while over 2,300 people, including children, are sleeping rough or in inadequate conditions. According to Save the Children, there may be minors that are not (yet) identified, as proper age assessment procedures are lacking.

“The EU Commission should continue to provide humanitarian support in Bosnia and Herzegovina and demand concrete results from the authorities,” Anita Bay Bundegaard added. “At the same time, the EU and its members must take concrete steps to provide safe and regular pathways to Europe for refugees and migrants, ensure access to asylum and protection services, and share the responsibility for the migration crisis.”

As EU institutions and members are reforming EU legislation on migration, they need to  address the worst and very widespread consequences of the current rules, including bottlenecks at the EU borders,” recommends Anita Bay Bundegaard. “This opportunity should not be missed. Improving the legislation on migration can help avoid more children’s suffering and risks of violence, trafficking, and exploitation they are currently facing.”

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