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Press Release

Hundreds of vulnerable refugee children in Greece at risk as the UK threatens to end family reunification

As hundreds of refugees and migrants reach the shores of Lesvos and overcrowding in reception centres across the Greek islands reaches an all time high, the UK’s decision to cease family reunification for unaccompanied refugee children is poorly timed, threatening to open hundreds of vulnerable people up to further crisis.

This weekend over 500 refugees and migrants, including 246 children, made the treacherous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece and, as a result of the increase in numbers of arrivals, more than 10,000 people are now living inside Moria Reception and Identification Centre on Lesvos, a facility with capacity to hold 3,000. A further 3,000 have been forced to live on the outskirts of the centre. 

Many of those who have arrived are unaccompanied children, whose families either remain in their countries of origin or have found sanctuary elsewhere in Europe. New levels of overcrowding and poor living conditions have led to violence within Moria, with unaccompanied children at heightened risk. This must serve as a strong reminder to European countries, including the UK, of the importance of family reunification as a tool to ensure vulnerable refugee children are brought to safety as soon as possible.

Imogen Sudbery, Policy and Advocacy Director for IRC Europe said:

“Ultimately, the only way to avoid situations like what we are seeing on Lesvos is for European leaders to uphold their promises to provide safe and legal routes for refugees to reach safety. As it stands, people are being forced to undertake extremely dangerous journeys in a bid for sanctuary and it is unacceptable that children are among those risking their lives. Leaders across Europe insist that they do not want to encourage refugees to take these journeys; if this is truly the case, then they should reinvigorate mechanisms available that have the power to prevent tragedies at sea and the devastating levels of overcrowding in reception centres. 

Brexit should not be an excuse for the UK government to back away from commitments to vulnerable children- whether already in the EU or in third countries. Rather, the priority for all European governments should be to ensure traumatised refugee children separated from their families can be reunited with their loved ones as quickly as possible.”

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.