UNICEF Ireland welcomes Irish Ministerial visit to refugee camps in Greece

10th December 2016

DUBLIN, December 10thUNICEF Ireland welcomes the arrival of Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to refugee camps in Greece this weekend. UNICEF believes the trip shows leadership that is both timely and necessary. Many of the children caught up in this crisis are future citizens of Europe and indeed the EU, who need leaders to take action that will help them find homes this Winter.

The refugee crisis has left some 27,500 children stranded in Greece, and the number continues to rise. There are at least 2,250 unaccompanied children in Greece, only a third stay in formal shelters.

The numbers are even more staggering in Italy, where more than 20,500 unaccompanied children have arrived since January.

Many refugees have now spent years in limbo, waiting to find out where they will be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

This latest visit to Greece by a delegation from Ireland comes after officials from the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, travelled to Greece last month, to meet with unaccompanied refugee children. It is clear that the current administration places great importance on the safety and welfare of children caught up in the refugee and migrant crisis, however we look forward to concrete actions emanating from this visit.

While in Greece, the Ministerial delegation will meet with representatives of UNICEF who will brief them of the situation on the ground. UNICEF has a long-term presence in the region and is pleased to offer this kind of high-level support.

The complexity of this crisis has created a difficult and challenging situation for authorities who seek to offer refuge to those who are fleeing from conflict and crisis. UNICEF calls on the Irish Government, and its European counterparts, to continue to work to improve the system, so that refugees can have their applications for asylum processed more swiftly.

Irish authorities continue to work to identify thousands of refugees who want to travel to Ireland, in order to fulfil our commitment to take in 4,000 people by the end of next year, however more needs to be done to overcome the unacceptable delays that are preventing the arrival of refugees to this country.

During their assessments, we would urge officials to prioritise children who are deemed to be the most vulnerable. Those with extreme vulnerability include unaccompanied minors and those who have high support needs, such as disability.

According to our UNICEF colleagues working on the ground, many unaccompanied minors are falling victim to prostitution rings and traffickers.

Children stranded in Greece have been out of school an average of 20 months. All of this is having a profound impact on their lives. There is an obligation on all of us to consider them as children first and foremost, affording them their rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Peter Power said: “We warmly welcome this initiative on the part of Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Katherine Zappone. Minister Fitzgerald has personally expressed to me her concern about the plight of unaccompanied minors and her desire that Ireland takes practical steps to assist them.”

He continued: “We are happy that our own Youth Ambassadors, former asylum seekers to Ireland and now Athlone residents Natasha Maimba (15) and Minahil Sarfraz (15)  engaged with Minister Fitzgerald on this issue during the United Nations General Assembly in New York last September, which was focused on the refugee and migrant crisis. They expressed to the Minister UNICEF’s view that children are children first, not refugee children, not migrant children and as such, States need to ensure their rights are protected.”

ENDS

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. UNICEF has been operating for 70 years.

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For more information, please contact:

Aedín Donnelly, Communications and Media Manager for UNICEF Ireland | aedin@unicef.ie Tel: +353 1 809 0281 | Mob: +353 85 1395272

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