Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Refugee children need protection now

The Lancet, editorial, 17 September 2016:

Amel Emric/AP 
In a new report—released on Sept 7, UNICEF paints a grim picture. Worldwide, an estimated 50 million children are refugees or migrants, with the number of child migrants having doubled and the number of refugees having increased by 21% in the past 10 years. The most vulnerable of these children are unaccompanied, and have often fled war, insecurity, and poverty under harrowing circumstances. They might be alone or they might have lost or become separated from their family during their journey.

In one terrifying account, published on Sept 9 (Why are you keeping me here?) Human Rights Watch describes how unaccompanied migrant children are detained in police custody in Greece in unsanitary and degrading conditions. Germany's national investigative police agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, has admitted in new figures that by the end of August almost 9000 unaccompanied children who were registered entering the country are officially missing. And while some of these children may be safe with relatives somewhere, there is the very real danger of exploitation and abuse. The UK has only managed to extricate 50 of 220 unaccompanied children stranded in the camp in Calais and who have a legal right to be reunited with families in the UK. This delay and inaction is unexplained and shameful.

We agree with Zulfiqar Bhutta and colleagues' strong plea in a Correspondence letter, published online on Sept 5, that it is now time “to take the strongest action possible to protect children”. The UCL–Lancet Commission on Migration and Health, announced in this week's issue, promises to tackle key issues that affect the health and wellbeing of migrants, including unaccompanied children. Children not only need safe environments and access to health care, they need education and special psychosocial attention to mitigate the atrocities of war and persecution, including experiences of being uprooted into different cultural environments. Outrage about the plight of migrant and refugee children is not enough. Childhood is a precious and important time that strongly influences what happens in the future. We must act now.

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