The everyday life of refugee children: violence and abuse

Alone and defenseless – this is how many children and young people feel when they are on the run. This makes them easy victims. Photo: Bigstock

They leave full of hope, which all too often leads them from bad to worse. Thousands of unaccompanied children are currently on the run. They are easy victims that no one asks about and that hardly anyone protects. Every day, children and young people are exposed to excruciating abuse at our EU borders.

“Everywhere we go, someone hurts us.”

This is the devastating summary of the experiences of many minors on the “Balkan route”, collected by Save the Children in the report of the same name (“Wherever we go, someone hurts us”). The 48 children questioned were between 13 and 19 years old and had spent an average of four (!) years on the road. Four years – for a young person and under these circumstances an eternity – with serious consequences for body and soul.

The biggest danger wears a uniform

What is particularly frightening is that minors experience most of the violence not from any civilians, but from people on behalf of the state – the border police. This shows the ruthlessness of so-called “push-backs”, with which refugees are pushed back. In fact, this practice is illegal. But again and again we hear of refugees stranded in the middle of nowhere because of this – without protection from heat or cold, sometimes without food. Be it in a forest area on the Polish-Belarusian or somewhere on the Bosnian-Croatian border.

A little girl just died as a result of such “push backs”: Maria, five years old. Chased back and forth by Turkish soldiers driving refugees towards the EU border and Greek border guards pushing refugees away from there. Eventually she and her companions landed on an island in the border river, where the little one died.

As inexcusable as this form of border protection is, the blame does not lie solely with the countries where such human rights abuses occur. To some extent, Greece also has the “A card” to be on the EU’s external border while we point the finger at them. The other 26 EU member states support indirect practices. The pan-European border guard Frontex is also on the scene and does not intervene.

Violence is ubiquitous

Although Maria is clearly a victim of this recklessness, no one laid a hand on her – unlike the children in the report. Again and again they experienced terrible attacks, especially at the border crossings. Some were forced to stand naked in the cold and were beaten with electric batons and batons.

Not only border guards, but also the smugglers to whom the refugees confide, quickly become a danger to their “protégés”. Sometimes they extort sexual favors – by luring them with money or protection. Apparently this particularly affects unaccompanied minor boys. And of course, vulnerable minors are also easy prey for innocent strangers.

Such experiences are also difficult to cope with in other circumstances – but alone and on the run? Alcohol, drugs and self-harm provide some victims with dangerous temporary comfort. The physical and psychological problems often remain with the rest of life.

Immediate action is required

“Because of Europe’s focus on deterring those arriving, children are exposed to shocking violence by police and border guards – violence that goes unpunished. The European Union and governments must act now,” said Ylva Sperling, director of Save the Children Europe .

To support this demand, the association has created this petition, which advocates sustainable and long-term policy solutions to prevent violations of children’s rights at our borders.

Leave a Comment