The EU tramples on children’s rights at its external borders. U.F. uses legal tools in form of a complain before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to fights back against the unlawful mistreatment. Photo: Max Gödecke
Worldwide, 36.5 million children are on the move, fleeing their home country. 40 per cent of those fleeing worldwide are minors. As children make up only one third of the world’s population, they are over-represented among those seeking protection. Due to their young age, children are particularly vulnerable – especially during flight. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international agreement that defines special rights for children to do justice to their vulnerability. 186 states worldwide have ratified the Convention and are thus bound by its provisions. Among the signatories are all EU Member States, i.e., also Croatia and Slovenia. They are thus legally obliged to respect children’s rights.
Time and again, the EU boasts of its values. The rule of law and respect for Human Rights are apparently central values of the Union that set it apart from other states in the world and give it moral superiority in the international political arena. However, if one looks at the EU’s external borders, there is little to be seen of these much-praised values. Human Rights violations in the form of illegal pushbacks, police violence, torture, and the systematic denial of access to a fair asylum process are an integral part of the European migration and border security policy. Children are also affected by border violence and EU closure policies. Many families flee with children, and countless minors are on the move alone- so called unaccompanied minors.
Children’s rights are stamped on
At the fenced-off, walled-off, camera- and drone-guarded borders of the EU, fleeing children and young people are stopped and mistreated by the European border protection mechanism. Due to illegal pushbacks, minors must endure inhumane conditions in the Bosnian-Croatian border area for months, sometimes even years.
Many children are severely traumatised by the hardships of fleeing to the EU. This creates a high risk of developmental delays. In addition, many children have no or little access to schooling during their flight. Through its inhumane migration policy, the EU actively contributes to hindering the development of children who have fled, instead of protecting and promoting them, as the member states have pledged to do by signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As a child alone on the move
U.F. was 8 years old when he was forced to leave his home in Myanmar. He belongs to the Rohingya ethnicity, which is persecuted and oppressed by the Burmese government. During an attack on his village, U.F. was injured by a hand grenade. To get medical help, he was taken to neighbouring Bangladesh. When U.F. recovered and wanted to return to his family, he was denied entry back to Myanmar. He has no passport (so-called stateless) and could not legally cross the border back into Myanmar. So, he made his way to the EU to seek protection. After an eight-year-long route, U.F., then sixteen years old, reached the Bosnian-Croatian border area in the winter of 2020.
Abused by Croatia and Slovenia
In Bosnia, U.F. had to live in destroyed, filthy ruins for months. International organisations such as IOM (International Organisation of Migration) and DRC (Danish Refugee Council) and local state structures provided U.F. with inadequate care. His special needs as an unaccompanied minor were not considered. U.F. regularly crossed the green border into Croatia on foot and reached EU territory. He was repeatedly caught by the Croatian police. The officers did not ask U.F. about his age. The fact that he was still a child and should therefore be protected by the special rights of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, such as the duty to consider the best interests of the child in all state measures, played no role in the treatment of the officers towards U.F. Article 3 (1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the central guideline for state decisions and measures affecting children. It states that “in all actions concerning children[…] the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”. These and other specific provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child were repeatedly disregarded by Croatian officials who were bound by the provisions. The protection of the Convention on the Rights of the Child ran dry. Once U.F. and a group of fellow travellers even made it to Slovenia. There he was caught by the Slovenian police. The Slovenian police arbitrarily classified him as an adult and deported him back to Croatia without any official procedure or the involvement of an interpreter. U.F. was thus unlawfully denied the opportunity to apply for asylum in Slovenia. After he was handed over to Croatian officials, they deported him back to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
U.F. fights back
In autumn 2021, U.F. made it to Germany and applied for asylum there. With the support of Blindspots activists he had met in the Bosnian border area, he contacted the Human Rights lawyers of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). He wants to hold Croatia and Slovenia accountable for mistreating him and breaking the law. Therefore, U.F. has filed a complaint against the two states before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the “guardian” of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. With the complaint, U.F. is drawing the UN’s attention to the Human Rights violations at the EU’s external borders. He wants the international community to stop looking the other way while EU member states systematically disregard children’s rights as part of their racist border protection policies.
To learn more about U.F.’s story and his complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, listen to an interview with U.F. and a legal advisor from ECCHR in the new episode of the Blindspots Podcast. Find out more about U.F.’s complaint here.
 Full name not given to protect privacy
 According to the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, a stateless person is a person “whom no State considers as its national by virtue of its legislation.