Update 2.25pm: The Children’s Rights Alliance has today called on the Government to continue to prioritise children in its approach to accepting refugees.
The group was hosting a joint event with the support of UNICEF Ireland today to examine the situation of child refugees throughout Europe.
Commenting at the event, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “Ireland is doing its part and pledged to accept 4,000 refugees and to prioritise families and children as part of this commitment. We welcome that so far, Ireland has accepted 1,905 people through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme of which 54% are children.
“We are deeply concerned at the conditions faced by child refugees making the perilous journey to Europe.
“These young children are often hungry, may never have attended school and have been exposed to serious abuse and trauma both in their country of origin as well as in transit.
“We need to ensure we are prioritising children in our approach to accepting refugees. We’re calling on the Government to continue to prioritise unaccompanied children in particular and to renew efforts to relocate people from the European hotspots.”
Attendees at today’s event heard that close to half of all refugees who travelled by sea to Greece and Italy in 2016 were children, predominately from Syria and Afghanistan.
Despite the ongoing efforts of the Irish Government, no child has been relocated from Italy to Ireland because of difficulties negotiating a bilateral agreement with Italy regarding additional security interviews, the group stated.
Speaking at the event, Sarah Crowe, UNICEF Refugee and Migrant Spokesperson, said: “Children have been invisible in this conversation. They are simply not seen and their needs and rights are not being met.
“And yet more than half of all refugees are children. Children are children before they are refugees or migrants - they must be treated as such, both in law and in spirit.
“Protracted displacement has a disproportionate impact on children and lasts on average 17 years: an entire childhood.
“Conditions in the main refugee hot spots for children are absolutely dire.
“Over the last 10 years, the number of child refugees has more than doubled; and 79% of young people who travelled alone on the Central Mediterranean route to Italy last year were subjected to exploitation.
“UNICEF wants unaccompanied children on the move to be given safe and legal passage, and access to family reunification. And children should never be detained – something Ireland provides great leadership on.”
David Stanton TD, Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration delivered the opening address at the symposium.
Commenting today, Minister Stanton said: “While all refugees and persons seeking international protection can be seen as being in a vulnerable situation, child refugees and asylum seekers, whether they are accompanied or unaccompanied, should be seen as an especially vulnerable group.
“The promotion and protection of the rights of child refugees and asylum seekers should therefore be central to our responses to refugee and crisis situations.
“This is why we are committed to prioritising families and children in the ongoing delivery of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme and for our future plans for resettlement and other forms of humanitarian admission for those most in need of our protection.”
Earlier: Dublin event to highlight plight of 'traumatised' child refugees in Europe
Threats faced by child refugees in Europe are to be discussed in Dublin today.
The Children's Rights Alliance and UNICEF will host an event, to highlight the serious abuse and trauma these children have been exposed to.
They'll try to find a better way to protect and care for them.
Children's Rights Alliance Chief Executive Tanya Ward says their living conditions are rough.
"Many are living in dire situations, in unauthorised camps," she said.
"They often have no access to education, and many have been abused and neglected and traumatised by the journey to Europe.
"So what we're hoping to do at today's event is to at today's event to build awareness of what's happening to children in Europe."