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“Children should go to playgrounds, not detention centres”- Save the Children launches campaign for child migrants to be protected in EU Migration and Asylum Pact


06 Dec 2023


Development Policy

Save the Children's campaign launched in Brussels today to draw attention to the dire situation faced by migrant children entering Europe. Photo: Save the Children Europe

Brussels, 05 December 2023 – Today Save the Children unveiled a powerful awareness campaign to put the spotlight on the dire situation faced by migrant children arriving in Europe.

As European Union decision makers gather in Brussels to finalise the EU Migration and Asylum Pact, the aid agency is calling for urgent action to prioritise the protection, dignity, human rights, family reunification, and successful integration of these vulnerable children.

As part of the campaign, Save the Children supported child advocates to stage a demonstration in front of the Council of the EU headquarters that hosts the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council, ahead of a “Jumbo Trilogue” on the key legislative files of the Pact on 7 December.

The campaign involves bicycles with banners cycling around the venue of negotiations and digital displays in multiple locations near the Council headquarters as a reminder to policy makers of the situation for children on the move. Messages confronting the EU legislators with the dire reality of children who “should be skipping ropes, not borders” highlighted that an alternative, compassionate approach is possible.

Recent data reveals that one in four people arriving in Europe are children who are escaping conflict, persecution, famine, forced marriages or extreme poverty. The daily reality of these children comes in stark contrast to regular childhood. As they embark on a dangerous journey to safety, children are facing violence and abuse, particularly at Europe's borders.

Save the Children's research on the Balkans exposes the extent of brutality against children by border police and smugglers. Children have reported enduring cold conditions, electric shocks, and severe beatings, resulting in serious physical injuries such as fractures and contusions.

Aazar*, a 14-year-old from Afghanistan, shares, "The police in Greece were very angry, they hit us...Croatian police shone flashlights in our eyes, then in front of your eyes [everything] was black."

Willy Bergogné, Save the Children Europe Director said: 

“This week in Brussels, European leaders are deciding the future of children seeking protection in Europe. These decisions will affect children for years to come. Nothing can justify a child dying or being mistreated.

“Children should be playing hide-and-seek with friends, not with the border police. They should go to playgrounds, not detention centres. The EU must use the Migration Pact to fix its broken and brutal asylum system.

“All children arriving in Europe deserve to feel safe and protected, be with their families and cherish hopes and dreams away from home.

“It’s time for Europe’s long-standing values, the driving force behind human rights standards, to come to the fore again. We need a pact that truly cares for children.”


  • 1 in 4 migrants who have arrived in Europe by the Mediterranean Sea in 2023 were children.
  • 90% of people who are granted protection in European countries arrive irregularly, and therefore are forced to use precarious routes across land and sea for lack of a safe way to get to Europe.
  • On the way into the EU via Mediterranean routes, 1 in 50 refugees dies or goes missing.
  • Child migrants account for four in every 100 deaths in the Mediterranean.
  • In the first three months of 2023, 3,300 children (71% of all arrivals) were unaccompanied or separated from parents, exposing them to heightened risks of violence, exploitation, and abuse.
  • Since January 2023, 11,600 children, averaging 428 children per week, have arrived on the shores of Italy from North Africa—a twofold increase compared to the same period in 2022.

More content available here

About Save the Children:

Save the Children is a global child rights organisation working to improve the lives of children in need. We believe every child deserves a future. In Europe and around the world, we do whatever it takes – every day and in times of crisis – so children can fulfil their rights to a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. With over 100 years of expertise and programs in 116 countries, we are the world’s first and leading independent children’s organization – transforming lives and the future we share. For more information, visit



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