Roll-out of the Children and Family Protection Support Hubs. UNHCR, Feb.2016
GENEVA, Feb 26 (UNHCR) – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF today launched a joint initiative to increase protection for the growing numbers of children and others with specific needs arriving in Europe.
UNHCR and its sister agency announced they were scaling up 20 Child and Family Protection Support Hubs, known as "Blue Dots," along the most frequently used migration routes in Europe.
In a joint statement, the two UN agencies said these special support centres, under the Blue Dot symbol, would provide a safe space for children and their relatives, vital services, family tracing, protection and counselling in one single location.
The Blue Dot hubs aim to support vulnerable families and individuals on the move, especially the many unaccompanied or separated children at risk of sickness, trauma, violence, exploitation and trafficking.
"We are concerned about the welfare of unaccompanied boys and girls on the move and unprotected across Europe, many of whom have experienced war and hardship in making these journeys alone," said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk. "The hubs will play a key role in identifying these children and providing the protection they need in an unfamiliar environment, where they may be at risk," he added.
The first Blue Dot hubs are now operational or about to open in Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. All 20 will be operational within the next three months. The initiative is also supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and national partners on the ground.
The Blue Dot at the Moria reception centre on the Greek island of Lesvos has been functioning since the end of January and has already had quite an impact.
One evening earlier this week, Roshan*, a 24 year-old Afghan mother, accompanied by volunteers, approached UNHCR staff working there. Accompanied by her three-year-old son, Roshan said she had experienced abuse at the hands of smugglers throughout her flight from Pakistan, through Iran and Turkey.
"Smugglers lied, robbed and physically assaulted her and other women she was travelling with", Lesvos protection officer Monique Rudacogora said. In Turkey, smugglers kept Roshan in a hostel for 25 days before taking her to the shore and on a rubber boat to Greece. UNHCR staff gave advice to Roshan on access to asylum and family reunification issues, countering the information provided by smugglers.
The Blue Dot hubs come at a time when women and children account for two thirds of those crossing to Europe: In February, women and children made up nearly 60 per cent of sea arrivals compared to 27 per cent in September 2015. They will also aim to identify and protect children and adolescents travelling alone, and reunite them with family wherever possible, depending on their best interests.
But identifying children in need is challenging. In some countries, young travellers pretend to be adults to avoid being delayed or detained on their journey, exposing them to the risk of exploitation. Last year, more than 90,000 unaccompanied or separated children registered and applied for asylum or were in care in Europe, mostly in Germany and Sweden.
The Blue Dot hubs are clearly identifiable and provide a standardized and consistent basic package of services provided by different organizations, including National Red Cross Societies and NGO partners. However they do not replace the responsibility and obligation of the states to do all they can to provide support and protection to those fleeing war and violence, in particular those with specific needs.
• restoring family links – services provided by the Red Cross and Red Crescent network;
• family reunification;
• child friendly space and dedicated mother and baby/toddler spaces;
• private rooms for counselling;
• psychosocial first aid;
• legal counselling;
• safe spaces for women and children to sleep;
• outreach social workers;
• information desk with Wi-Fi connectivity.
*names changed for protection purposes.