GENEVA – The United Nations agencies warned on Friday that the European restrictions on refugees, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, are endangering many, “especially children”, as the bite of winter takes hold.
The UNHCR, UNICEF and IOM called on European governments to provide more reception centres and decent accommodation to refugees.
“As long as this robust reception and screening capacity does not exist, the only ones who are in control of the situation are the smuggling networks whose unscrupulous activities have already cost the lives of nearly 3,500 people in the Mediterranean Sea this year,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a joint statement with the UNICEF and IOM on Friday.
“The current situation, if not addressed quickly and comprehensively, will lead to a fragmentation of the routes and additional challenges,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
This comes amid continuing influx of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans into Greece from Turkey.
“Much more has to be done to crack down on smugglers and traffickers – but in ways that allow their victims to be protected,” he said, adding that governments have imposed new restrictions against movements from Greece through the Western Balkans and further northwards, beside profiling people the basis of nationality.
“This is becoming increasingly untenable from every point of view – humanitarian, legal, and also safety related, not least in light of falling temperatures and the risks for children and others with specific needs,” Edwards emphasized.
UNICEF is reportedly supporting “child friendly spaces” in reception centres at border crossings along the Balkan routes, mobilizing for winter and working with governments to strengthen child protection systems for all children, including refugee and migrant children.
“But we remain concerned by a shortage of places to accommodate people along the route should the movement be slowed down and crowding result,” UNHCR spokesman said. “There is urgent need to put in place additional reception capacity at the points of entry, to allow for decent and effective accommodation, compliance with child protection standards, assistance, registration and screening of the thousands of people arriving every day.”
Meanwhile, UNICEF’s spokeswoman Sarah Crowe said that last week, she had been at the Slovenia-Austria and Slovenia-Croatia border. “There were large number of families who would stuck for hours in a no man’s land there leaving children at heightened risk when temperatures plummeted. They had put up tents now.”
Crowe added that the number of children was growing. “In June it was one in 10 migrants and refugees was a child, while in October was one in three.”
By: Lorin Silo
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