Letter from Lesvos

Beth Gardiner-Smith, Chief Executive of Safe Passage writes: COVID-19 has had a sudden and dangerous impact on the safety and wellbeing of refugees around the world, particularly the most vulnerable. In Greece, extreme overcrowding in some refugee camps makes social distancing impossible. In Moria camp on Lesvos there is one tap for 1,300 people, whilst access to medical care continues to be severely limited.

At Safe Passage, we are having to adapt our work in light of new restrictions in place across Europe, and find new ways to protect the rights of refugee children.

With travel restrictions increasing, our urgent priority is to help find solutions for all the children we are supporting, and prevent them from being stuck in camps for months to come.

Our expert legal and advocacy teams have been putting pressure on Governments to work together to ensure children can still travel to reunite with their families. The UK is rightly concerned to make sure British Citizens make it home to their families, but refugee children mustn't be left behind.

While we are hoping for the best, we must prepare for the worst. There is a strong possibility that at some point, all travel between countries could be suspended and no children will be able to access safe and legal routes.

If this happens our priority will be to ensure children stay within the legal process and can access support to meet their basic needs, working closely with partners on the ground in Greece and France and urging Governments to do more.

We know that when children lose hope in the possibility of legal routes, they are more likely to go missing and attempt deadly journeys. We will do everything we can to stop this from happening, including finding new and creative ways to provide support during lock-down to stop children falling through the cracks.

Government shut-downs across Europe have already left many thousands of refugees unable to register for asylum, or access Family Reunion. This creates huge challenges for refugees, particularly children. Some children will turn 18 during this period and lose their rights; for others, critical deadlines may be missed by States meaning their case is halted.

We will be taking the lead with partners around Europe to identify children and gather the evidence that will protect their rights through this crisis. The spread of coronavirus must not mean children permanently lose the ability to reunite with family, access vital support and reach a place of safety.

At a time of global crisis, our work has never been more needed. Changing circumstances have highlighted the shortcomings of the current system and left children in limbo.

I've been incredibly impressed by the hard work and dedication of my team at Safe Passage, as they've moved fast to adapt their work to support child refugees during this crisis..

Child refugees need our support more than ever. Many are now stranded, unsure if they will ever be reunited with their loved ones.

Beth Gardiner-Smith

Chief Executive of Safe Passage

To support the work of Safe Passage click HERE

Tags: Lesbos, Lesvos, Refugees, WCC, Safe Passage, Beth Gardiner-Smith, Coronavirus, COVID-19

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