Protecting displaced, migrant children

Thursday, 10 November 2016

We must not forget that refugee and migrant children do not bear any responsibility for the bombs and bullets, the gang violence, persecution, the shrivelled crops and low family wages driving them from their homes. It is high time we took initiatives for protecting these most vulnerable children, writes S. M. Rayhanul Islam reviewing the book

Uprooted: The Growing Crisis for Refugee and Migrant Children
Published by UNICEF, September, 2016
Pages: 140, ISBN: 978-92-806-4847-8

In recent years, child migration - both forced and voluntary - has become a global phenomenon. Around the world today, 50 million children have migrated across borders or been forcibly displaced within their own countries. More than half - a shocking 28 million - have been uprooted by horrific conflicts in their own countries. These migrating and displaced children are at risk of some of the worst forms of abuse and harm. Often dependent on human smuggling, they usually fall victim to traffickers and other criminals. Many are subjected to extreme forms of abuse and deprivation during their journeys. When, and if, these children reach destination countries, the threats they face do not disappear. Despite extraordinary and generous actions to help them in many places and by many people and organisations, children and their families struggle to gain a foothold. Moreover, refugee and migrant children disproportionately face poverty and exclusion at a time when they are in desperate need of essential services and protection.
The UNICEF publication,  Uprooted: The Growing Crisis for Refugee and Migrant Children  presents comprehensive global data about these children - where they are born, where they move, and some of the dangers they face along the way. The report sheds light on the truly global nature of childhood migration and displacement, highlighting the major challenges faced by child migrants and refugees in every region. The report is divided into three main parts.
Part one focuses on the global perspective of childhood migration. Today, nearly 1 in every 200 children in the world is a child refugee. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of child refugees under the UNHCR's mandate more than doubled. During the same period, the total number of all child migrants rose by 21 per cent. The 10 countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees are all in Asia and Africa, with Turkey hosting by far the largest total number of refugees under UNHCR's mandate. By the end of 2015, some 41 million people were displaced by violence and conflict within their own countries; an estimated 17 million of them were children. Globally, three out of every five international child migrants live in Asia or Africa. Half of all the world's child migrants live in just 15 countries, led by the United States of America, which is home to 3.7 million child migrants.
Part two discusses the regional perspective of childhood migration and displacement. More than half of all international migration is composed of movements within regions, and the three largest migration movements in the world are all intraregional. Refugee movements are even more concentrated within regions than they are with general migration. Africa has one of the world's lowest rates of child migration, with just 1 in 90 African children living outside their country of birth. While the total rates of migration are low, the share of children among Africa's migrants is the largest for any region. Nearly one in three African migrants is a child, more than twice the global average. The Americas are home to 6.3 million child migrants - 21 per cent of the global total. Four out of five child migrants in the Americas live in just three countries: the United States, Mexico and Canada. There is a high and increasing number of vulnerable children moving on their own within the Americas - often fleeing violence in their homes and communities. Nearly 12 million of the world's international child migrants live in Asia. This represents 39 per cent of all international child migrants, well below Asia's 56 per cent share of the global child population. Saudi Arabia hosts the largest number of child migrants in Asia and the second highest number of child migrants in the world. Other Asian countries hosting large numbers of child migrants are Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey. This reflects the continuing toll of conflict rather than a trend of voluntary child movement.  At the end of 2015, Europe hosted approximately one in nine of all refugees under UNHCR's mandate, a total of 1.8 million people. An additional 1 million asylum-seekers in Europe were also awaiting the outcome of their asylum applications. Approximately one in six of the world's child migrants lives in Europe. Child migrants constitute a high proportion of all children in Oceania. Six in every 100 children in the region are migrants. The 670,000 child migrants living in Oceania represent 2 per cent of child migrants in the world.
The report concludes with the chapter 'The Policy Perspective'. Based on the findings of the report and its work in the field, UNICEF has developed six goals and practical suggestions to protect child migrants and refugees and provide them with hope for a better future: 1) Protecting child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence. 2) Introducing practical alternatives to detention wherever children (or their families) are involved, given the negative impact of detention on a child's development. 3) Developing clear policy guidance to keep children from being separated from their parents during border control processing and any migrant legal processes. States should speed up procedures and make it easier for children to reunite with their families, including with their extended families in destination countries. 4) Keeping all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services. An increased collective effort by governments, communities and the private sector is needed to provide education, health, shelter, nutrition, water and sanitation, and access to legal and psychosocial support to these children. 5) Addressing the root causes of conflict, violence and extreme poverty in countries of origin. This should include increasing access to education and social protection; expanding opportunities for family income and youth employment; and fostering more accountable and transparent governance.  6) Promoting measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalisation in countries of transit and destination. Coalitions of NGOs, communities, private sector, religious groups and political leaders should take responsibility for influencing public opinion to prevent the rise of xenophobia and discrimination towards refugees.
We must not forget that refugee and migrant children do not bear any responsibility for the bombs and bullets, the gang violence, persecution, the shrivelled crops and low family wages driving them from their homes. It is high time we took initiatives for protecting these most vulnerable children as they are our next generation as well as the future of the world.
The writer is an independent researcher.
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