“Refugees and migrants trapped along the Balkans migration route, including some 500 unaccompanied children and 400 children with family who are currently in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are facing increased risks from smugglers, traffickers, and border authorities,” said Save the Children in a press release issued this week.
They added that these minors are at an increased risk of being trafficked or ending up in the hands of border authorities. Tighter border controls and illegal pushbacks both at the EU border and between EU Member States exacerbate the likelihood of violence and abuse against children and other vulnerable persons.
Save the Children have called on EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson who was in the Balkans this week, to assess the situation and to ensure child protection measures are implemented immediately for migrant children.
“Pushbacks of migrants, including unaccompanied minors and families with children, happen not only at the borders of the EU, but also between Member States”, said Anita Bay Bundegaard, Director of Save the Children Europe.
“It is vital that the EU and its Member States put an end to illegal pushbacks and at the same time prioritize child protection at its borders. The EU needs to implement procedures that guarantee a proper age assessment and ensure the protection of children, and it must allow regular, independent monitoring mechanisms for the reporting of incidents that are accessible by children.”
Johansson visited Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. Save the Children said the commission should provide humanitarian support in BiH and demand concrete results from the authorities.
As EU institutions and members are reforming EU legislation on migration, they need to address the worst and very widespread consequences of the current rules, including bottlenecks at the EU borders” recommends Anita Bay Bundegaard. “This opportunity should not be missed. Improving the legislation on migration can help avoid more children’s suffering and risks of violence, trafficking, and exploitation they are currently facing.”
Albania is a key transit country on the Balkan route and the number of migrants being transported through the country for cash, is believed to be increasing. Exit interviewed one of the traffickers who explained it is a highly organized activity including a network of ‘safe houses’ in Tirana.
They also spoke of how migrants that are ‘caught’ by the police are pushed back over the border, only to attempt again some hours later.
The EU’s border police, Frontex have also been accused of illegal deporting migrants between Albania and Greece.
According to an investigation conducted by Deutsche Welle, migrants in Greece that are trying to reach Western Europe accused the EU’s border guards of “pushback”.
Several individuals spoke to the media and said they had experienced such behavior. One man said he walked from Ioannina to the Albanian border, not encountering any Greek police. He claimed that Frontex staff stopped in Albania and handed him over to the authorities in Kakavia.
He then asked the Albanian authorities for asylum but was told they couldn’t apply due to COVID and were sent back to Greece without the Greek authorities being notified. The man in question attempted once again and made it to Tirana before heading through Kosovo to Serbia.
Refugee aid organizations have confirmed that pushback happens at the border between North Macedonia and Albania as well. They claim it happens daily.
A Frontex spokesperson told DW that they hadn’t found any credible evidence to support the allegations.
Exit reached out to Johannson to ask for an interview on her work and the situation in the region. We were refused and told “she is very busy” despite not specifying a date for the proposed interview.