Several members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly joined a web conference hosted by the British House of Lords, focused on taking stock of past action and addressing new challenges related to relocating vulnerable refugees. Entitled “Voluntary relocation of child refugees and other vulnerable refugees: achievements and future challenges,” today’s meeting explored topics including the new arrivals of refugees by boat in Mediterranean countries and the United Kingdom, impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenges posed by coming winter conditions.
Lord Alf Dubs, Member of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Migration, co-chaired the meeting and spoke about the need for European solidarity, praising in particular the relocation schemes for child refugees in the European Union. “I would like the United Kingdom to co-operate fully on the issue of refugees with wider Europe,” Lord Dubs said. “We must keep public opinion on board on this issue. We must explain to the public what we are doing and why we are doing it, and how it relates to European humanitarian values.”
OSCE PA Vice-President Margareta Cederfelt, a Member of Parliament from Sweden who serves as Acting Chair of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Migration, noted that there have been some encouraging developments in recent months, with the expansion of the voluntary relocation scheme from Greece initiated by the European Commission last spring. She pointed however to a number of important challenges that remain and underlined that civil society organizations should be viewed as partners in efforts to address the needs of vulnerable refugees.
“A significant number of children and other vulnerable refugees are still living in tents and other temporary arrangements which do not meet their special protection needs,” Cederfelt said. “Regrettably, a decision was also made to close two other facilities on Lesbos which offered alternatives for vulnerable migrants. Given the heightened health risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the lack of adequate facilities, the need for relocation of children and other vulnerable refugees from Greece and in particular the Aegean islands remains critical.” She also highlighted the need to combat disinformation which contributes to spreading mistrust towards migrant communities.
Kyriakos Hadjiyianni, Member of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Migration and Member of Parliament from Cyprus, noted that unaccompanied children are more vulnerable to abuse and emphasized the need to clarify their status to address their needs in a co-ordinated, responsible and dignified manner. Underlining the significant migratory challenges which his country was experiencing, he called for an increase in relocations and stressed that it was not sufficient to rely on voluntary mechanisms for burden-sharing. He also highlighted the crucial importance of reaching a consensus on the New Pact and burden-sharing among EU Member States.
Speakers during the web conference discussed challenges related to unaccompanied minors and progress that has been made in relocations, including the difficulties of selecting vulnerable refugees and accommodating them locally. There is a need for sustainable solutions and focus on reunification with family members, it was stressed, as well as promoting international co-operation to address the problem of the trafficking of children. Furthermore, governments must address the ongoing problem of minors leaving reception centers and essentially going missing in Europe, it was underlined, with emphasis on improving the system for accommodating children to ensure that they don’t disappear.
There was also discussion on the importance of the United Kingdom to continue working with the European Union after Brexit in order to continue relocating children. Participants noted that the issue of vulnerable child refugees must be approached at the European level and ad hoc relocations need to be replaced by a more coherent approach as part of a functioning European asylum system.
The meeting was co-chaired by Alexander Dundee, Chair of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Sub-Committee on Refugee and Migrant Children and Young People.
It included participation by Chris Philp, Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts, Home Office in the UK; Emanuela Del Re, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy; Stephan Mayer, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of the Interior of Germany; Eirini Agapidaki, Greek Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors; Monika Ekström, Policy Officer at the EU Commission; David Simmonds, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration of the UK Parliament; Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR Representative in the UK; Domagoj Hajduković, Chair of the European Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Croatia; Pierre-Alain Fridez, Chair of the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, and former UK Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.