An international rights organization has called on European Union nations to better provide for children from Afghanistan, Syria, and other nations seeking asylum in Europe.
Human Rights Watch released a report saying many children who have fled Afghanistan to avoid recruitment by the Taliban or conscription by the Syrian army are traveling alone to refugee centers, where they can be held for weeks while awaiting space in children's shelters.
Human Rights Watch based Tuesday's report on interviews with 41 children at Greek asylum centers in May 2015, more than half of whom were traveling alone. It said the children are traveling to avoid violence in their home countries, to seek education unavailable at home, or to avoid abuses such as forced recruitment into armed groups or child marriage.
The report says some of the child refugees first sought asylum in non-EU countries such as Iran and Turkey, but found it difficult to get documentation, education, or work with adequate pay to survive. In Iran, the report says, non-Iranian children must pay to attend school, making an education difficult for migrant children to obtain.
Human Rights Watch says unlike adults, children seeking asylum can be detained for weeks while authorities search for space in children's shelters. It says many children lie about their ages to avoid being detained.
The European Union is seeing record numbers of asylum seekers this year, many trying to escape the violence in Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says 42,160 migrants have been recorded as entering Greece by sea in 2015, which is close to the total for all of 2014. Greece says the largest percentage of them comes from Syria and the next-largest group comes from Afghanistan.
The report calls on Greece to "ensure adequate reception conditions" on its islands where most of the refugees arrive, and to pay "special attention to the needs and best interests of children, including those traveling alone." It calls on Greek authorities to process children quickly, rather than detain them for several weeks.
Human Rights Watch also called on other EU nations to support proposals that would help alleviate the burden on Greece by relocating refugees, making sure any such program takes into account the best interests of children. And it called on Syria and Afghanistan to protect children from violations in armed conflict, and from other abuses such as child marriage. It called on Iran to ensure Afghan children's right to education and to end exploitative child labor.
Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that "Children forced to flee abuse or life-threatening danger and who encounter even more danger along the way shouldn't find more abuse and neglect when they arrive." She said their own countries, as well as those where they seek asylum, should be doing much more to help them.