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EU migration response plan could harm refugee children

Last week’s European Council meeting was dominated by reactions to Britain’s referendum result, but on Tuesday EU leaders took a decision that will heavily impact on people in countries across Africa and Asia.

Siham (15) and her mother Khadeea are on very good terms with Ruba (18) who they met at one of the Central Reception Centres in Hamburg. Credit: Plan International.

(Monday 4 July, Brussels) As one of more than 130 civil society organisations who raised its concerns regarding the European Commission’s proposed new Partnership Framework with third countries on migration last week, we were very disappointed to see the Framework approved by the European Council last Tuesday.

We were particularly disappointed that endorsement of this hugely important new approach was rushed through a much shorter than usual Council session and not given the attention it deserves. Regardless of any political crisis or competing items on the agenda, the new Partnerships Framework, which is fundamentally re-orientating the direction of the EU’s external action and in particular, development aid, and which will impact on people in countries across Africa and Asia, merited proper consideration and discussion.

As was highlighted by the NGOs’ joint statement, which drew unprecedented united support from development, human rights, humanitarian, medical, and migration organisations, the new Partnership framework is a cause for great concern as it makes deterrence and return of people the main objective of the EU’s relationship with third countries at the expense of human rights and development.

Shirking a responsibility to protect

As a children’s rights organisation, Plan International is committed to working to advance the rights of all children, in particular those who are most excluded and most marginalised. Refugee and migrant children, especially girls, fall firmly within that category.

The EU and its Member States have responsibilities to protect refugee and migrant children.

The EU and its Member States have responsibilities to protect refugee and migrant children. All EU Member States have signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. In addition, article 3 of the Lisbon Treaty commits the EU to promoting the “protection of the rights of the child”. These treaties form international legal obligations and guarantee human rights. In our view the EU is shirking these responsibilities through the new Partnerships Framework which will have an extremely negative impact on migrant and refugee children. It will force children and their families to take ever more dangerous routes to Europe to avoid heightened border controls. The Framework’s failure to safeguard human rights, rule of law standards and protection mechanism in the border control they will be funding also puts refugee and migrant children at significant risk. Human rights and the rule of international law cannot be put aside for the goal of curbing migration.

Diverting development aid

The new approach also has the potential to negatively impact the many children who remain in the countries with whom the EU develops migration compacts due to the conditionality the Partnership Framework places on development aid. As a development organisation, Plan International stresses that the purpose of development aid must remain reducing of poverty, tackling inequality, promoting stability and fostering sustainable and inclusive growth. EU development aid has provided huge numbers of children with access to education, health care, sanitation and many more invaluable services. If development aid is now reoriented towards security purposes, including border control, many programmes which have provided children with these opportunities may be at risk. Migration control must not undermine and detract from existing EU development and humanitarian commitments, instead the development principles of humanity, neutrality, independence and impartiality must be upheld. However, the “positive and negative incentives” of the Partnership Framework compromises these principles and risks punishing children’s access to development programmes based on their country’s record on migration control.

Europe is in a position to show solidarity with other countries around the world.

As the world’s wealthiest continent, Europe is in a position to show solidarity with other countries around the world, who receive a far greater number of refugees and migrants than EU Member States, and with refugees and migrants themselves. Instead, through the adoption of the Partnership Framework, they have chosen to outsource this responsibility and use their significant international leverage to turn partner countries into their border guards.