Some 75,000 refugees and migrants, 24,600 of them children,are currently stranded in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and the western Balkans. They are at risk of long term psychological trauma caused by a prolonged state of uncertainty.
Unicef said that, although they have a legitimate right to join families in destination countries in western Europe, most do not know whether or when they will be permitted to move forward. The situation is especially serious for single mothers and children stuck in Greece or the Balkans. In many cases, men are the first family members to travel to Europe, with the rest of the family following later. After the closure of borders in 2016 and the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement, women and children are increasingly being held up in transit countries from where they must apply for family reunification with their loved ones. The process usually requires between 10 months and two years.
Unicef said most applications were filed on behalf of children and other family members stranded in Greece. The process could be ''painstakingly slow," however, given the large number of applications and that at least two EU member states are involved. In 2016, some 5,000 family reunification requests - including 700 from unaccompanied and separated children - were made from Greece, with only 1,107 successful applicants having reached their destination country by the end of the year.
Number of stuck migrants and refugees on the rise
Meanwhile the number of refugees and migrants blocked in Greece, Hungary and the Western Balkans continues to rise - up about 60% over the past year from 47,000 in March 2016 to 80,000 at the end of April 2017. Afshan Khan, Unicef Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, said that ''keeping families together is the best way to ensure that children are protected, which is why the family reunification process for refugee and migrant children is so important''.''With the number of those stranded continuing to rise, it is incumbent on member states to alleviate procedural bottlenecks so that families can get back together as quickly as possible'', he noted.
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