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Shores of the Mediterranean: Back and Forth

In 2020, 1,754 people were reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean crossing.


In April, Danish authorities announced their intention to expel dozens of refugee children back to Syria following confirmation of plans to withdraw their temporary protection under the argument that the security situation had improved significantly in certain parts of Syria and that it was safe for them to return. As a result, hundreds of Syrian refugees are at risk of losing their residency permits, including at least 70 children.

That same month, The Guardian and Lost in Europe found that 18,292 unaccompanied child migrants went missing in Europe between January 2018 and December 2020. Most of them coming from Morocco, Algeria, Eritrea, Guinea, and Afghanistan. The equivalent to nearly 17 children a day. According to the data available, about one in six were younger than 15 years old. In 2020 alone, 5,768 children disappeared in 13 European countries. The investigation, with data on missing unaccompanied minors from EU members as well as Norway, Moldova, Switzerland and the UK, found the information provided was often inexistent, inconsistent, outdated or incomplete, meaning the true numbers of missing children could be much higher.

In 2015, the severity of the civil war in Syria and economic and political crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Nigeria forced millions of people to flee to neighbouring states and Europe. With the European Union (EU) lacking an effective mechanism to respond to, and share the burden of asylum claims, the quantity of refugees and migrants continued to rise to the point that more than 1 million people arrived in Europe that year. Consequently, the European Commission adopted an Action Plan and the European Agenda on Migration, providing measures to establish a strong asylum policy, reduce the incentives for irregular migration, and ensure cooperation with third-party countries. This, however, did not deter irregular entries to the Union at the expected pace and, in 2016, it began to negotiate the EU-Turkey Deal to cope with flows from Turkey to Greece.

That March, the council had adopted a regulation on emergency support to respond to the humanitarian crisis, enabling the EU to help affected member states to address the needs of refugees, and enabling up to643 million from 2016 to 2019 via partner organisations, including UN agencies, the Red Cross and NGOs. Similarly, the EU agreed to devise a stronger development-oriented approach to forced displacement, putting more emphasis on supporting the inclusion of forcibly displaced persons and addressing the root causes of long-term displacement in the framework of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR), Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and the World Bank’s programs on forced displacement. As a result, irregular arrivals have been reduced by more than 90%.

Beyond foreign policy and external relations, human rights in the union are protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, that recognises human dignity as inviolable, as well as that everyone has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity, which must be respected and protected. Equally, the Charter consecrates the right to asylum, stating that it shall be guaranteed with due respect for the rules of the Geneva Convention, whereas it prohibits collective expulsions, further determining that no one may be removed, expelled, or extradited to a state where there is a serious risk to be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. As for child protection, Article 24 sets forth that children shall have the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being, and that they may express their views freely, which should be considered on matters concerning them in accordance with their age and maturity. Further, Article 6 of the TEU determines that although the Charter of Fundamental Rights refers expressly to the EU, member states must respect its principles in the EU’s external relations.

Moreover, the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020-2024 embraces, among other objectives, the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law worldwide, in all areas of EU external action. As for the strategies, the EU contemplates protecting and empowering people, including advocating for the specific protection to which migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons are entitled.

Under the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the UN Refugee Convention and its Protocol, and the European Convention on Human Rights, states are required to protect the right of people to seek asylum and protection, even if they enter irregularly. Similarly, in the EU, according to Asylum Law and the