The Plight of Migrant and Refugee Children

The Plight of Migrant and Refugee Children

The Syrian war has been one of immense suffering for citizens in the country. Not only have the civilian death and injury tolls been over 220,000 people since the conflict began in 2011, but the conflict looks to be far from over. With Al-Asad receiving support from ally Russia, and the Islamic State still able to control many parts of Eastern Syria (and continue their oil sales), it seems that the various groups will continue to fight for territorial and political control of the country.

And thus, as a result of this fighting that has taken place, as the world is aware, such actions have forced thousands of Syrian refugee to flee the country, leaving either into countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and for many, with hopes of ending up in Europe. And while there has been a great deal of discussion as it pertains to the refugees, what seems to have received much less international attention has been the specific issue of Syrian children refugees, and in particular, those that have been forced to leave the country alone.

However, Syria is far from the only state where refugee children are leaving from. For example, Al Jazeera wrote a story of a boy named Nasir who left Afghanistan following abuse by his uncle after his parents were killed in an earthquake. Nasir had to face extreme hardship as he left the country, making his way into the Balkans. As it was reported, “It has taken Nasir six weeks to reach this muddy park in Serbia’s capital. After leaving his home in Afghanistan’s Baghlan province, he first traveled to Iran, traversing the country on foot and in smugglers’ trucks. At the border with Turkey, he says, he escaped the bullets of Iranian border guards, who killed seven people just behind him. He spent four days hiking in the mountains before arriving in Bulgaria, where he ran from gunshots again. It took him almost three weeks to cross that country, and most of it was spent in a deep forest with little to eat and no shelter at night.”

There are many dangers facing migrant children who are traveling without any adults. As the story notes, “Without parents to guide them, these minors are often at the mercy of smugglers and face heightened risks of physical and sexual abuse. And governments along the Balkan route, overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of refugees passing through their countries, are ill equipped to handle the influx of children.”

The states that are receiving the thousands of refugees are facing difficult challenges to ensure that the refugees and migrants are met with the necessary care and attention needed. This is often the case for children migrants. With regards to the specific actions needed to protect children migrants, 

Under national laws and international human rights treaties, Serbia and other nations are obligated to identify all those under age 18 traveling without immediate relatives and provide them a guardian and accommodation separate from adults. But nations are failing to do so, say human rights advocates, both because they are overstretched and because most of the children do not remain in any one country for more than a few days. Even when police do identify underage travelers and take them to children-only shelters, they often disappear soon after to continue their journeys to northern Europe.

The number of children traveling without any guardians who applied for asylum into Europe was said to be 23,150 last year (Yahoo, 2015). Families often send children in hopes that they can find work, and then help support families back in their country of origin. However, children have to face numerous challenges, and the situation often becomes even worse if the no longer have money during their journey (Al Jazeera, 2015). Along with the psychical, emotional, and psychological risks associated with these travels alone,  children will often have to spend their childhood working, and away from opportunities of access to primary schooling.

It is imperative that the international community coordinate efforts both domestically, with other countries abroad, and also with non-governmental organizations to ensure that children migrants and refugees who are not without guardians during their travels are offered the needed support so that they can be safe throughout their entire journey, as well as when they reach their final destination or country of asylum.

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