Speech given by Lone Ree Milkær, Vice-President of The European Humanist Federation, during the “Migration and Children – The situation of unaccompanied minors” seminar
Mr. President, madame Vice-president, mr. Vicepresident, honored colleagues. Thank you for initiating this necessary dialogue on the situation of unaccompanied minors. My name is Lone Ree Milkær. As Vice-president of the European Humanist Federation I represent 42 humanist organisations all over Europe. Some of them with hands on experience with the reception of unaccompanied minors, in refugee camps and via integration, others deeply concerned with the conditions of unaccompanied minors.
It is perhaps an un-thankful task to be the last speaker, but I ask you to bear with me.
It may be one of the most anti-humanist practices of all: to not take properly care of our children. And it is quite frankly difficult to know where to start in listing the concerns. It is a shameful fact that in 2020 in Kara Tepe in Lesbos at least 50 CHILDREN tried to kill themselves, the youngest was only 8 years old.
Article 24, section 1. of the fundamental rights of the European Union states that children shall have the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being. This is actually a simple ambition: Children should be safe and well. One of the finest – and as we have heard essential – tasks of all of the adult politicians in Europe should be to ensure this – and there is no lack of children that are not safe and not well.
As several speakers have mentioned, the decrease in unaccompanied minors does of course not mean that there were 76.700 less vulnerable children in the world in 2019 compared to 2016. It just means that they did not knock on our door, primarily because we told them not to. And if they knocked, we told them to stay in the drive way, so to speak. But it would be fairly reasonable to assume that they still lived under conditions that were hard to bare.
The point being that vulnerability does not begin with the knocking on an European door and asking for help. A refugee journey process starts when a child is somehow put in an situation which results in this child being alone in a foreign country and it includes every step of the journey, including the reception in a new country if asylum is granted. Integration must take all the steps of this process into consideration. The entire refugee journey lasts several years, often a large part of the children’s lives – and prolonged and difficult asylum application processes add to a life lived in vulnerability. And It leaves the children traumatized in unimaginable ways.
A few facts from one of our member organisations, Humanistischer Verband in Berlin, can function as a qualification of these considerations:
More than 50% of underage migrants have experienced violence in their home country, during their way to Europe, or in the camps.
Between 38% and 47% have had experience with human trafficking
16% male, 35% diverse sex, 52% female underage migrants experienced sexualized violence
It is our duty to ensure that the reception and integration in a new country does not contribute further to the trauma, and we are not doing a very good job of that. Let me again turn to information from Humanisticher Verband to illustrate:
More than 90% of the unaccompanied children are stressed in their everyday life because of their experiences related to the circumstances of being a refugee, being apart from families etc.
34% feel impaired by racism in the residential country.
In Germany alone every year THOUSANDS of underaged m. get lost, only about 79% of those cases are solved by the police (first half of 2018: 2176 pax, of 2019: 1254 pax)*
To ensure the well-being of unaccompanied minors in the reception countries, the humanist organisations in Europe recommend:
Acknowledgement of the trauma of the entire asylum process, especially for children.
Securing the education of young migrants and children in the receiving countries. To learn language, culture, habits, to reduce disadvantages and build a new divers social network.
Increasing the education of the populations in the receiving countries on the exceptional conditions unaccompanied minors have lived through, to prevent racism and prejudice.
Attention to the freedom of religion or belief, regarding the vulnerability of NON religious refugees, ex-muslims or belief minorities, especially concerning the integrations process.
As Mrs. Metsola said: we need to do better!