Child Protection on Eastern and Central Mediterranean Migration Routes Focus of Ljubljana Conference

Capacity Building, Humanitarian Emergencies, Migrants Rights, Refugee and Asylum Issues

Ljubljana Over 100,000 migrant and refugee children arrived in Europe via the Central and Eastern Mediterranean routes in 2016 alone. More than two thirds of these were unaccompanied or separated children at high risk of exploitation.

As many as 75 per cent of the children and adolescents who travelled on the Central Mediterranean route suffered at least one indicator of exploitation, violence or abuse according to the IOM-UNICEF report Harrowing Journeys released on Tuesday (14/09). 

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, and its partners with European Union (EU) support are working to enhance the protection and safeguarding of asylum seeking, refugee and migrant children who find themselves on the Eastern and Central Mediterranean migration routes. This work was the focus of a regional conference organized by IOM in Ljubljana last week (13/09).  

“Migrant children are extremely vulnerable. The perils that shadow children on these routes have demonstrated the urgent need for an integrated approach to child protection and a transnational response to better cater to the needs of these girls and boys,” said Irina Todorova, IOM’s Senior Regional Thematic Specialist for Assistance to Vulnerable Migrants, based in Brussels.

The purpose of the conference was to enable mutual learning, exchange and harmonization of approaches and services for migrant children. It attracted over 50 national authorities and representatives from UN agencies, NGOs, embassies, academia and the media from Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Hungary, Italy, Serbia and Slovenia.

Boštjan Šefic, State Secretary of the Slovenian Ministry of the Interior, said that while the number of migrant and refugee arrivals has decreased on the Eastern Mediterranean route, systemic improvements and continuous preparedness for a regional response were still needed.
“We cannot become complacent. We have to remember that our response must always take children’s vulnerability and protection needs into consideration,” Šefic said.

At the conference, representatives from participating countries described the steps taken to improve the protection of children on the move in Europe, with emphasis on the challenge of identification, referral and assistance for unaccompanied migrant children and children victims of human trafficking and other forms of violence and exploitation.

Enhanced integration measures and initiatives were promoted not only as a social necessity, but also as a key protection measure.

“If migrants are not properly integrated, they can be subject to trafficking because trafficking is based on exploitation,” said Sandi Čurin, the Slovenian National Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings.

Participants stressed the need to improve the integration of children in educational systems, including through the support of cultural mediators and psychosocial assistance.

Adriano Silvestri, from the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency noted a worrying tendency towards the increased use of detention of migrant children in the EU.

“A significant number of children are in immigration detention; this concerns unaccompanied migrant children, but particularly children in families,” Silvestri said.

Systematic screening and training of all actors working with and for children – especially on the front line – and continued efforts from Member States on improving guardianship systems to better cater for the specific needs of migrant children, were among the key takeaways from the day.

The importance of family reunification was repeatedly underlined as a legal and safe way to reunite families and prevent children from going missing.

The event was organized within the framework of an IOM regional project called Protecting Children in the Context of the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe. The project is supported by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers.

The project, which will run until January 2018, aims to improve the protection of migrant children in those European Union Member States, which have in recent years experienced an increased number of arrivals of migrants and refugees, including particularly vulnerable unaccompanied and separated children.

For more information, please contact Balazs Lehel at IOM Hungary, Tel: +36 147 22 508, Email:

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