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Intervention of the Permanent Representative, Ambassador Mrs Anna Korka, to the 9th annual HC Dialogue on "children on the move" (Geneva, 9/12/2016)

Monday, 12 December 2016

Intervention of the Permanent Representative, Ambassador Mrs Anna Korka, to the 9th annual HC Dialogue on "children on the move" (Geneva, 9/12/2016)

Intervention of Greece to the 9th annual HC Dialogue on "children on the move" (Geneva, 9/12/2016)

High Commissioner, Distinguished panelists, ladies and gentlemen ,

We welcome the organization of this dialogue as it tackles timely and acute issues and we express the hope that it's conclusions will contribute  to the elaboration of the comprehensive refugee response framework that the UNHCR will initiate and develop, according to Annex I of the New York Declaration.
It goes without saying that children, which represent approximately 50% of the total number of the displaced are one of the most vulnerable groups. They need a particular care and attention, in order to preserve their physical and mental health, while acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills, which will allow them to become responsible adults and active members of the community they will choose to settle in.

The issue of children on the move is a very complex one, as it encompasses various topics, which need to be addressed in priority, such as health issues, housing conditions, asylum procedures, custody issues in the case of uasc, requests for reunification with family living in another country, or education, to mention only some of these points.

The steadily rising numbers of mixed flows, amongst whom a large number of children, call for an urgent and coordinated each ion of the international community, which needs to prove its solidarity, tolerance and generosity. In this case, as in others, responsibility sharing is the key issue. However Responsibility sharing is the element which constitutes a perennial gap in the international response to large population movements.

In the case of my country, the enforced  closure of our northern borders this year, constituted a great challenge for the government which had to manage the reality of close to 60000 people stranded in its territory,among which 2.500 unaccompanied children.  Indeed at the time, there was a dearth of available specialized accommodation facilities to respond to this number. We believe that national planning is moving in the right direction as,since then, the creation of almost 1200 child friendly accommodation spaces was achieved, with the the help of our humanitarian partners,  and the funding of DG Home and DG Echo. Moreover, there is national planning to further increase the total number of accommodation places.

I would like to stress the fact, as it is not perhaps widely known that child friendly facilities, according to international standards, need to fulfill specific quality conditions and they also have a high maintenance cost in order to respond to the specific needs of the children. Therefore, their tripling within a few months is no easy task.

We do not wish to dwell disproportionately on the national measures taken regarding this important issue. We just want to say that -although challenges persist- the access to education of 18000 migrant and refugee children this year, the creation of safe zones within reception facilities, the treatment of children as a vulnerable category and the policy of transferring them to more appropriate facilities, as well as the steps taken regarding the revision of the guardianship institution by the end of the year constitute important steps for the improvement of living conditions. At this point, we also want to pay tribute to the local communities that daily go out of their way in order to welcome these children,  thus resisting xenophobia despite the challenging socioeconomic context. Fighting xenophobia is not just a slogan. It is a daily test. Therefore, The solidarity, the good faith and  the cooperative spirit of the civil society -national and international- as a whole is expected in supporting the efforts of the government and of local authorities trying to reach sometimes difficult consensus in this direction.

Mr High Commissioner, it was not our purpose at all to specifically refer to the EU-Turkey agreement in this context, but a comment was made and we need to set the record straight. All throughout this dialogue we hear references on respect of the right to life of the children on the move. Last year at this dialogue we were mourning hundreds of deaths in the Aegean Sea- many children were among them. Since April of this year, the deaths in the Aegean have been drastically reduced to 63 according to IOM data. It is good to keep this in mind when we advocate safe passages and try to be consistent with our argumentation. We choose safety over death and smugglers' exploitation. We also want to stress that all the returns under the EU-Turkey agreement take place in full respect of international and European law and there is full transparency on them since the relevant announcements  are accessible at the public website of out coordinating body for the  refugee crisis management. (no returns of unaccompanied children have ever taken place), and any concrete claim is very thoroughly investigated. With this opportunity we pay tribute to the national staff as well as easo staff and unhcr seconded staff, as well as to the judges and the UNHCR appointed staff of the appeals committees for working night and day in order to ensure respect for the asylum seekers'human rights.

But the complexity and sensitivity of this issue, require us to consider innovative solutions together with the "traditional" ones. Relocation and resettlement of unaccompanied minors must be urgently accelerated, facilitation of family reunification  procedures from an early stage is equally crucial, more inclusive eligibility criteria  for relocation and resettlement that reflect current realities, Expansion of innovative Complementary legal pathways as proposed by the UNHCR. Wider use of humanitarian admission. Incentives -based apprenticeship programs for minors above minimum work age. The above measures are not only to the best interests of the child, but they also drastically minimize irregular and secondary movements.

Ladies and gentlemen, a few weeks ago we celebrated the universal children's day. We feel the need to renew our global  commitments to better protect the rights of  children on the move . We owe them safety and protection but we also owe them their lost childhood. That s why we are here to learn and to seek solutions, and responsibility sharing on a global issue is the clear way forward.

I thank you.

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