Child Rights Helpdesk website

Statement Ukraine: Respect the rights of child refugees at our borders and in our communities

Last week, the Russian military invaded the Ukraine. Armed hostilities are ongoing. Russia has targeted multiple cities with attacks on residential areas. Children are being forced to leave their homes and seek shelter elsewhere. As in any armed conflict, their safety, access to food and water, medical care, and healthy development are at risk.   

These immediate risks may be compounded with the long-term traumas that these children may face as a result of displacement. Widespread fighting and humanitarian crisis may lead many families to seek safety outside of the Ukraine, including in Europe. This while many children are already facing inhumane conditions at Europe’s borders. 

In 2014, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine lead to the displacement of over 1 million people, of whom 130.000 children. During the last months, rising tensions between the two countries saw the increase of asylum applications in neighboring EU countries. The Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov has predicted that between 3 and 5 million Ukrainians will flee the country as a result of the current conflict. These hostilities pose a threat to over 7.5 million children, according to the head of UNICEF, Catherine Russel.  

As partners of the European Child Rights Helpdesk, we call attention to the rights of the child, particularly in the conditions of armed conflict. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to “take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.”

We call on Russia and those involved to commit to cessation of hostilities and to respect international humanitarian and children’s rights law protecting civilians in conflict. All violence puts children’s well-being at risk, but especially the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas must be avoided.  Hospitals, schools, waterworks and other objects of humanitarian importance must be protected. Safe transit of children and families out of high-risk areas and humanitarian access must be ensured. 

We call on our own governments to respect the rights of child refugees at our borders and in our communities. 

  • Increase the capacity for thorough screening to quickly and correctly identify children, alone or in families, and transfer them to safe, child-friendly housing.  
  • Act now to prepare shelter and asylum systems for potential increase in the number of refugees seeking protection, do not leave them stranded in borderlands without basic necessities.  
  • Quickly adapt grounds for international protection to reflect the situation as it develops, and recognize that the Ukraine cannot be considered a safe country of origin or refuge. 
  • Commit to refugee protection, show solidarity and engage in cooperation with the EU and other Member States.   

European Child Rights Helpdesk 
Defence for Children the Netherlands
Defence for Children Italia
ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth
Greek Council for Refugees
Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen
Swedish Refugee Law Center
Irish Refugee Council
Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej/Association for Legal Intervention