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LATEST PRESS
6 March 2019

Child refugees in limbo for 16 months waiting to reunite with family members

A new report by the child refugee charity Safe Passage and Greek NGO PRAKSIS has identified serious problems with the family reunification procedure for unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors arriving in Europe, exposing children to significant physical and mental harm as a result of lengthy separation from loved ones.

The EU Dublin III Regulation sets out the family reunification rules by which asylum seekers arriving in the EU can apply to be transferred to another member state where they have family. 17,199 unaccompanied minors were recorded as having arrived in Greece between January 2016 and November 2018 and made up 37% of all arrivals in the first quarter of 2018.  The report’s findings indicate that unaccompanied children arriving in Greece and applying for family reunion are waiting an average of 16 months from arrival until transfer, far exceeding the maximum of 11 months provided for in the Dublin Regulation. In some cases, children have been made to wait for over a year and a half.

The report, based on extensive analysis of the experiences of 80 children who arrived in Greece and applied to reunite with family between December 2015 and November 2017, identified significant challenges impeding the process, among which the most striking is a lack of cooperation and information sharing between national authorities handling the children’s cases. Though the best interests of the child were prioritised in some instances, researchers found that many cases involved lengthy setbacks, unnecessary administrative hurdles and demands for proof of a family link far exceeding that required under EU law. The majority of cases first rejected on the grounds of lack of evidence were ultimately accepted, causing unnecessary and traumatic delays in children being reunited with their loved ones.

The report concludes that delays, unjustified evidentiary requirements and a consistent failure to prioritise the best interests of the child have resulted in severe harm to many of the children’s physical and mental health. It highlights in particular the ten percent of cases where children lose faith in the process and abscond, often following a rejection despite submitting substantial and sufficient evidence.

Speaking on the European release of the report, Safe Passage’s CEO Eleanor Harrison OBE said:

“The Dublin III Regulation makes clear that the best interests of the child must be prioritised throughout any family reunification application. Children need to be treated as children first and then as asylum seekers. Yet in too many cases, children’s own stories are doubted and their relationship with loved ones are disbelieved. Many are subjected to invasive medical exams, questioned over the truth of their statements and some are forced to undergo DNA tests that may not actually be necessary.

“Placing these unreasonable requirements on vulnerable, often traumatised children, only serves to further compound their distress. Whilst some instances of good practice were observed, the reality is that the system let most of these children down.”

The report includes key recommendations for improving family reunification for children at EU and national level. These include a more creative and efficient approach to cooperation between EU Member States, which would allow more children to be reunited smoothly with their families. The report recommends a EU-wide review of guidance on establishing the proof of family connection, as well as a standardised approach for collecting and evaluating evidence.

The report also suggests the establishment of an independent body to monitor and improve cooperation and information sharing between Member States handling family reunification applications and calls on all Member States to fully preserve and implement safeguarding principles within the Dublin III Regulation. Further recommendations include a refocus of policy-making, placing the rights of children at the heart of any future legislative reform of asylum legislation at EU and national levels.

Speaking about his own experiences of waiting over one year for family reunification in Greece, an unaccompanied minor now reunited with his brother in the UK said:

“I loved the weather in Greece, but it was one of the most difficult memories as I was homeless.  Than safe passage found me a shelter. The waiting was unbearable, as I didn’t have any family in Greece.  

My brother and others kept telling me that they are working hard on my transfer case, but each day felt like forever.  I am so glad I am here now and I love going to college. I am getting top grades in my speaking and written tests every week, but I still have to get used to this weather.”

Notes to Editors

A copy of the Safe Passage PRAKSIS report is attached to this email.

For more information about the number of asylum seekers arriving in Greece see the Greek Asylum Service’s website: http://asylo.gov.gr/en/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Dublin-stats_January19EN.pdf

About Safe Passage

Safe Passage is an independent charity that combines strategic litigation, case work, community organising and advocacy to open safe, legal routes for those seeking sanctuary, and has opened up safe and routes that have helped over 1800 people reunite with family members across Europe. Since Safe Passage started working in Greece in 2016, it has actively supported the transfer of asylum seekers to the UK under Dublin III and facilitated family reunification training for over 300 lawyers and caseworkers. For more information see www.safepassage.org.uk

About PRAKSIS

PRAKSIS (PROGRAMS OF DEVELOPMENT, SOCIAL SUPPORT AND MEDICAL COOPERATION) is an independent Non-Governmental Organization whose main goal is the design, application and implementation of humanitarian programs and medical interventions. Amongst its many programmes, between 2014 and 2018 the organisation accommodated 2626 unaccompanied minors in shelters across Greece, providing legal, educational, physical and mental health support.

Please contact Rosie Rooney at Safe Passage for more information: rosie.rooney@safepassage.org.uk