Globally, 28million children have been driven away from their homes by violence and conflicts not of their making. There are millions more children on the move, taking huge chances by migrating in the hope of finding a better, safer life. One year ago, the UK government took the decision to accept 20,000 refugees into the country. Now is the moment to take stock and look at the current situation for refugee children and what needs to be done.
Millions of children across the world have been uprooted, often fleeing violence and conflict and are making dangerous journeys whilst still traumatised from what they have seen. They face even greater dangers whilst on the move including risk of drowning from sea crossings, malnourishment, dehydration, trafficking, kidnapping, rape and even murder. Even when they reach their final destination, they often face xenophobia and discrimination.
When children are in such extreme situations, the priority should be getting them to safety so they can begin to rebuild their lives and come to terms with what they have seen. Yet all too often this is not happening. In 2015, of the 88,265 asylum claims by unaccompanied children in the European Union, only 3,045 were in the UK (3.4%). Worryingly, there are still a huge amount of barriers to resettlement and family reunion from Europe; it is unlikely the UK will greatly increase this in 2016 despite many children having a legitimate claim to join family already settled in the UK.
We must do more to help these children that are displaced and uprooted in Europe and at Unicef UK, we are calling on the UK government to ensure that refugee children stranded in Europe can reach safety with their families in the UK, as well as offering more resettlement places to children across the continent who are alone and vulnerable to exploitation.
We must ensure that children do not feel as though they have no choice but to use smugglers and traffickers which put them in grave danger whilst on the move. To do this we must make sure that children better understand their legal rights, ensure that safe routes are open and where possible, children are kept with their family. The UK government should loudly champion the family reunion process which can ensure families stay safe and together.
Progress has been made this year. Just four months ago there were no plans to support pushing the family reunification process in Greece, now the first steps have been taken to get a system in place. This will be a blow to traffickers and a victory for UK policy. In Calais, the UK government has committed to a communications campaign to help raise awareness with children that they have a right be reunited their family. The French and UK governments are also having regular meetings to ensure that children with a legal right to be in the UK are identified quickly.
We've seen progress and this is helping to save children's lives, but with two major global refugee summits in New York at the end of the month, now is the time for the UK to up its game and show the world we are providing solutions to this crisis. We must show that keeping families together means keeping them safe. We call on the Prime Minister to use the summits to champion the importance of family reunion powers.
The world is facing an unprecedented refugee crisis and we really must do more to help these children. Ahead of the world refugee summits, we have a chance to do more to protect millions of child refugees and we call on world leaders to be strong and bold in their commitments to do so.
To find more, please download the 'Uprooted' report here