AuthorMeletlitis, Maria




    Children constitute half of the refugee population around the world. (1) In 2015, thousands of refugees crossed European borders by sea and by land desperately seeking safety and a new life. (2) That year, 96,000 unaccompanied or separated children applied for asylum in the European Union (EU), as well as more adults. (3) Since 2015 thousands more children flee to Europe every year, and while numbers have decreased since then, a significant number arrive unaccompanied daily. (4) This mass [*82] migration of minors has been labeled the "children's refugee crisis." (5)

    This Note discusses the current state of the refugee crisis in the European Union, with a focus on the children's refugee crisis, as thousands of unaccompanied and separated minors seek asylum. (6) Part II explains the history of the refugee crisis in the European Union and the international laws and policies that surround asylum claims. (7) Part III illustrates the number of children who make the journey into Europe and where they are [*83] placed upon arrival, the safety and health challenges they face, how they are distinguished as minors, and whether the EU is integrating them into member state schools. (8) Part IV explains the need for stronger asylum regulation, a reform of the current Dublin Regulation, and more aggressive protection of children's human rights-including unconditional access to education for all minors seeking asylum. (9) Part IV also analyses the legality and [*84] consequences of border controls. (10) Finally, Part V concludes by summarizing the crisis, its effects on both minors and host countries, and proposals for change. (11)


    1. The Refugee Crisis of 2015

      The displacement of people around the world happens daily, as individuals face persecution and violence. (12) In 2015, over one million people embarked on the journey from their home countries, or from other host countries, to cross the border into Europe. (13) Many refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, and Africa, had already been displaced in their neighboring countries-Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon n the Middle East, and countries in the Horn of Africa. (14) However, [*85] poor conditions and a lack of access to resources in these neighboring countries compelled them to continue their voyages into Europe. (15)

      As Europe received this wave of migrants, the hosting member states had to create shelters, provide medical care and food to refugees, and examine asylum applications. (16) The mass migration created a crisis in host countries, as most of the refugees crossed European borders by sea, arriving by the thousands in southern border countries like Greece and Italy. (17) Both Greece and Italy endured financial distress before the crisis, and [*86] faced an impossible human rights crisis as more and more refugees crossed their borders in the years following 2015, and continue to do so today. (18) This results in a lack of adequate refugee camps and violent and political turmoil throughout the southern European border. (19)

    2. The Schengen Agreement

      The Schengen Agreement (the Agreement), signed in 1999, sought to abolish borders within the European Union territory to provide ease of travel between countries in the region. (20) The [*87] Agreement, still in effect in 2020, encompasses most European Union member states, and four other countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. (21) Despite the Agreement, many European Union member states, most recently Greece, responded to the current refugee crisis by stationing border control officers in an effort to reinforce their borders. (22)


    3. United Nations Conventions

      As part of the 1951 United Nations Geneva Convention, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and its expansion in 1967 under the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (Protocol) (23) established a meaning for the term "refugee," and defined the refugees rights. (24) The Refugee Convention and Protocol further described the obligation of nation states to protect those rights. (25) Subsequently, in [*89] 1989, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child outlined how refugee children, specifically, must be protected and what the states' obligations are to the refugee children. (26) Most notably, age is a determinate characteristic which places child refugees in a social group that gives the child an inherent right to protection from persecution. (27)


      1. Non-Refoulement

        The Refugee Convention in 1951 additionally defined refoulement, and established the principal of non-refoulement in Article 33. (28) Refoulement is the act of returning refugees to a country or territory-in any capacity-where their lives or freedoms may be threatened because of their race, religion, social group, nationality, or political affiliation. (29) The principle of non-refoulement applies to all refugees, regardless of their asylum or [*91] immigration status. (30) Non-refoulement has also been adapted through legal means in many other UN Conventions and treaties, international instruments, and extradition treaties. (31)

      2. Common European Asylum System

        The right to seek asylum was declared a basic human right in 1948 under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (32) In 1999, the European Union created the Common European Asylum System ("CEAS"), a uniform policy for asylum in order to safeguard the common objectives of "freedom, security, and justice" within Europe. (33) The CEAS is a legislative body of regulations guiding member states in their review of cases and applications for asylum. (34) The CEAS process begins when the asylum seeker first arrives in the EU territory and an asylum case is opened by them. (35) Asylum seekers are directed to reception centers where they receive housing and food; the asylum [*93] seekers must also have their fingerprints collected in order to document what country they arrived in. (36) The asylum seekers must be interviewed by case workers who decide whether or not they meet the asylum requirements-with an option for appeal in the event of unfavorable outcomes. (37) Finally, asylum seekers may be granted a protective status or returned to their country of origin. (38)

      3. The Dublin Regulation

        In 2003, as part of the establishment of the CEAS, the EU enacted the Dublin Regulation that indicates which member state an asylum seeker's case may be opened In. (39) As most recently amended in Dublin III, it states that (1) member states assess applications for asylum; (2) applications filed at the border or within the territory of a member state will be assessed by [*94] that state; and (3) applications are assessed by only one member state. (40) Furthermore, the state in which the asylum-seeker is eligible for a review of their application is based on a hierarchy of circumstances, centered around whether they have family in any member state, or if they have no family in the EU, the state they first entered European Union territory. (41) For unaccompanied minors, the member state responsible for review will be (1) a state in which the minor has family, and (2) if no family exists in the EU, then it will be n the member state where the minor first entered the EU territory. (42)

        [*95] As a result, The Dublin Regulation places enormous pressure on EU southern border member states such as Greece and Italy. (43) Most refugees and asylum-seekers do not have family members in the EU, and first arrive in one of these southern border EU nation states. (44) Thus, southern border states must [*96] expound resources and make asylum decisions at significantly higher rates than the rest of the European Union member states, regardless of whether their economic health and infrastructure can process this volume of asylum applications. (45)

    4. The European Human Rights System

      The Council of Europe, an international organization established after World War II and comprised of forty-seven countries as members, has ratified over 200 treaties and aims to protect human rights. (46) The European Union member states, as well as other states outside of the EU-such as Turkey-are members of the Council of Europe. (47) The European Human Rights Convention, one of the treaties ratified by the European Council in 1950, intends to shape uniform civil rights and political [*97] rights of people. (48) In pertinent parts, the treaty prohibits torture and slavery and grantees the right to a remedy if one of the treaty's promised rights are violated, but it does not cite a basic human right to asylum. (49) In adherence with these promised freedoms, The European Human Rights Convention established The European Court of Human Rights ("ECtHR"), a court to oversee the treaty's adoption of the convention's protocols. (50) While there is no explicit mention of a right to seek asylum, in several notable cases, the ECtHR asserted that sending an individual back to a country where they will face inhumane conditions, [*98] such as torture or slavery, constitutes refoulement and is disallowed by the Articles of the European Human Rights Convention. (51) For asylum seekers whose asylum cases do not comport to the circumstances required for protection under the Refugee Convention, the remaining available remedy is to submit a claim to the ECtHR and seek protection under The European Convention on Human Rights. (52)


  3. FACTS

    1. Safety Concerns

      Refugee children face many safety concerns on their journey into Europe, including a risk of being trafficked for sex and dangerous labor. (53) Children are more likely than adults to become victims of trafficking and exploitation, particularly if they meet certain risk factors including: traveling alone, aged 14 -17, male, and have little or no education. (54) As many EU countries installed borders and implemented border controls, migrants increasingly [*100] turned to irregular migration, (55) finding smugglers who...

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