Migrant children expelled to Niger as Europe and North Africa tighten borders

By agency reporter
June 11, 2018

An increasing number of migrant children are being expelled to Niger as countries across Europe and North Africa seek to curtail irregular migration, UNICEF says, warning that there are insufficient cross-border mechanisms to protect these children from the many risks they face – trafficking, violence, abuse, exploitation and detention.

Since November last year, more than 8,000 West Africans, including 2,000 children, have been returned to Niger from Algeria, while another 900 registered refugees and asylum seekers from countries in East Africa have been transferred to Niger for processing from Libya. At the same time, migrant flows into Niger continue.

In April alone there was an increase of 14 per cent over the previous month in people transiting through Niger – a rate of nearly 500 a day with around a third being children, most of whom are exhausted and have been exposed to violence, or left without adequate support and protection. The true figure is likely to be higher as many children go undetected or hide.

“Niger needs help to support the increasing number of refugee and migrant children arriving or being returned across its borders,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s Director of Programmes. “Solutions must include improved cross-border cooperation between governments to keep children safe, as well as increased investment to help countries like Niger strengthen support systems available to all children in the country – no matter who they are or where they come from.”

With government negotiations on the Global Compacts for Migration and Refugees currently underway, the UN children’s agency is calling for solutions to keep children safe. This means enhancing cross-border cooperation between countries to better protect children on the move, the implementation of child-sensitive border management policies, and providing children with access to essential services like shelter, protection, education and training. It also means urgently addressing the root causes of irregular child migration including poverty, lack of education opportunities or violence.

The Global Compacts present a unique chance to review migration policies and practices that leave children vulnerable and replicate those that contribute to keeping children safe.

Some existing solutions in the region include the West Africa Network for the Protection of Children (WAN) – which links up governments, civil society and individuals – to referral services to help unaccompanied migrant children in transit and when they reintegrate back home.

“Those children who are now stranded in Niger not only need urgent help to stay safe, but also assistance over the longer term,” said Chaiban. “They need better access to information to make informed choices and support to return home, if possible, or to a third country. For those for whom returning home is not an option, states need to come forward and offer resettlement places. The children stranded in Niger look to us all for sustainable solutions.”

UNICEF teams recently met several women and children, including a newborn baby and nursing mothers who had been stranded in Niger alongside large numbers of men from Guinea, Liberia, Cameroon, Sudan and Eritrea. Many, including children, had travelled partly by foot in the scorching heat with no shelter or water.

UNICEF is working to reunite separated families, keep children learning, and ensure they benefit from basic social services. Together with UNHCR and IOM, UNICEF is working with the authorities in Niger to help reunify children with their families in Niger and support assessments for their resettlement in third countries – particularly those from Eritrea and Somalia who have been evacuated from Libya.

UNICEF is also helping children in transition and orientation centres managed by the Niamey Directorate of Child Protection, working to get them urgent psychosocial support to deal with the trauma of their difficult journeys.

In the coming months, UNICEF is due to set up one-stop social welfare hubs that provide protective services for children. These one-stop hubs will support unaccompanied or separated children and vulnerable families on the move, offering basic household items, health and referral services, as well as assistance to restore and maintain contact with family members.

The great majority of migrants and refugees in Africa (75 per cent) move within sub-Saharan Africa. Only 17 per cent cross into Europe.

Latest data shows arrivals from North Africa into Italy are down by two thirds.

* UNICEF UK https://www.unicef.org.uk/

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