Save The Children has warned that hundreds of unaccompanied minors and children with their families are trapped along the Balkan route and are suffering pushbacks from EU nations, trafficking, and exploitation.
"Refugees and migrants trapped along the Balkans migration route, including some 500 unaccompanied children and 400 children with family who are currently in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are facing increased risks from smugglers, traffickers and border authorities," a press release issued by the organization Save the Children on February 19 said.
The organization stressed that these children are ever more exposed to the risk of ending up in traffickers' hands or those of border authorities and that tighter "border controls and pushbacks, both at the EU border and between EU countries, have led to an increase in violence and other abuses against children and other vulnerable people."
Appeal to the EU
"As EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson visits Bosnia and Albania to assess the situation of migrants in the border areas of Croatia and Greece, Save the Children calls on the EU to ensure child protection measures are implemented immediately for all migrant children," the press release continued.
Save the Children went on to note that "ongoing reforms of the EU migration legislation, especially on the sharing of responsibilities, will address the suffering of children who are in search of safety and, often, reunification with family members already living in Europe."
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, "hundreds of identified unaccompanied children and children with families are currently sheltered in reception centres, while over 2,300 people, including children, are sleeping rough or in inadequate conditions."
According to Save the Children, "there may be minors that are not (yet) identified, as proper age assessment procedures are lacking."
Call to end illegal pushbacks
"Pushbacks of migrants, including unaccompanied minors and families with children, happen not only at the borders of the EU, but also between Member States," said Anita Bay Bundegaard, Director of Save the Children Europe.
"It is vital that the EU and its Member States put an end to illegal pushbacks and at the same time prioritise child protection at its borders. The EU needs to implement procedures that guarantee a proper age assessment and ensure the protection of children, and it must allow regular, independent monitoring mechanisms for the reporting of incidents that are accessible by children."
The European Commission should continue to provide humanitarian support in Bosnia and Herzegovina and "demand concrete results from the authorities. At the same time, the EU and its members must take concrete steps to provide safe and regular pathways to Europe for refugees and migrants, ensure access to asylum and protection services and share the responsibility for the migration crisis," Bundegaard was quoted as saying by the press release.