Tens of thousands of refugee children in Europe are at risk of psychosocial distress that will affect them for years to come due to living in a protracted state of limbo, Unicef has warned.
Youngsters who have fled from Syria and other war-zones are being “set back for years to come” due to the emotional distress and anxiety caused by the uncertainty surrounding the family reunification process, which can see them waiting in temporary camps for months or even years. The situation is particularly acute for single mothers and children stuck in Greece or the Balkans waiting for reunification with family members in other EU countries, Unicef warned, with adult males often being the first family members to make the trip to Europe, and the rest of the family following later.
Following the border closures and implementation of the EU-Turkey statement last year, women and children are increasingly being held up in transit countries from where they must apply for family reunification with their loved ones – a process that typically takes between 10 months and two years. Unicef warned that the process could be “painstakingly slow”. In 2016, nearly 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.
“We are seeing single mothers and children who have not seen their husbands and fathers for months or even years,” said Afshan Khan, Unicef Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe “The family reunification process is slow and its outcome uncertain, and it is this uncertainty which can cause significant emotional distress and anxiety for children and families, setting them back for years to come. 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,” Ms Khan added.
Last month, a study by Harvard University warned of a “growing epidemic” of sexual exploitation and abuse in Greece, while in March Save the Children warned desperate refugees trapped in Greece were self-harming and attempting suicide as a result of “disastrous” EU policies, with more refugees dying than ever before while attempting to reach Europe following the controversial deal struck with Turkey.