May 20. 2024. 10:18

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Several thousand Ukrainian children ‘forcibly relocated to Russia’, HRW says

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, thousands of Ukrainian children in foster care have been forcibly transferred to occupied territories or to Russia itself, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Thousands of children in Ukraine have been separated from their families and forcibly transferred to Russia since Moscow’s invasion in February 2022, warned the latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, “We Must Provide a Family, Not Rebuild Orphanages”, published on Monday (13 March).

The number of children separated from families stands at 16,000, according to the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office.

“Returning children who were illegally taken by Russian forces should be an international priority,” Bill Van Esveld, HRW’s Deputy Director of Children’s Rights, said.

“Human Rights Watch has documented Russia’s forcible transfer of children from Ukrainian residential institutions. Inter-country adoption is prohibited during armed conflict; the forcible transfer of civilians from occupied territory is a war crime,” the report stated.

“Ukraine and its allies should ensure that all children who were or remain in institutions are identified and supported to live with their families or in communities,” Van Esveld added.

In September, the United Nations discussed allegations that Russian forces had sent Ukrainian children to Russia for adoption as part of a larger-scale forced relocation and deportation programme.

Poland, which has taken in the largest number of Ukrainian refugees, announced on 27 February that it was launching an initiative with the European Commission to try to find Ukrainian children abducted by Russian forces and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

Russian ‘guardianship offensive’

In May 2022, the Russian parliament amended a law to allow authorities to grant Ukrainian children Russian citizenship – a move that facilitates the guardianship and adoption of Ukrainian children for Russian families.

According to an HRW investigation, an adoption website lists children from Ukrainian regions, and Russian officials have said that hundreds of Ukrainian children have already been adopted.

“Emergency relocation should not be used as a justification to fast-track adoption […] and circumvent international standards,” said Aaron Greenberg, child protection adviser at UNICEF Europe and Central Asia.

Currently, about 100 institutions, which housed more than 32,000 children before the war, are located in areas that are partially or fully under Russian occupation, according to official Ukrainian government figures.

“UNICEF is concerned about reports that accelerated procedures for acquiring nationality are being extended to separated and unaccompanied children,” Greenberg told EURACTIV France.

MEPs call on EU countries to protect Ukrainian children from human trafficking

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, more than 2,5 millions children have fled the war facing risk of illegal trafficking and abuse. MEPs adopted a resolution calling to protect children refugees on Thursday (7 April).

Paris urges EU to investigate

HRW, Poland and the EU Commission are not the only ones concerned about the forcibly displaced children’s fate.

On Thursday (9 March), the French Senate’s European Affairs Committee unanimously adopted a proposal for an EU resolution that condemns Russia’s forced deportation of Ukrainian children.

“Ukrainian authorities have counted 16,228 children deported by Russia from the occupied territories since the outbreak of the war,” said André Gattolin, rapporteur and author of the original proposal for a resolution.

However, he said, “the real number is probably much higher, as Russia claims to have taken in a total of 733,000 children from Ukraine, alleging ‘humanitarian solidarity’”.

In its draft resolution, the French Senate’s committee called on the EU and member states to carry out the necessary investigations and to demand that these children be returned to their families.

The committee members welcomed the joint initiative of Poland and the European Commission and urged the French government to support this initiative.

“It is time to act so that these crimes, which may be qualified as war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide and are punishable by the International Criminal Court, stop as soon as possible,” said co-rapporteur Claude Kern.

The United Nations Children’s Fund urged all parties to respect the safeguards of international humanitarian law.

Reform needed in Ukraine

The HRW said the war highlighted the urgent need for reform in Ukraine, which had more than 105,000 children in institutions before the invasion, the largest number in Europe after Russia.

HRW estimates that more than nine out of 10 children housed in Ukrainian institutions were placed there because of difficult living circumstances or because they had a disability, despite still having parents with parental rights.

When war broke out, most of these children were returned to their families. Thousands were evacuated to other institutions, but thousands more remain unaccounted for and their needs must be urgently assessed.

“Beyond the war, there is an urgent need for Ukraine, with the support of foreign governments and humanitarian agencies, to stop placing children in institutions and instead develop a system of family and community-based care,” the report said.

The HRW report also highlighted other problems, including the mental trauma of the displaced children and neglect and inadequate care because of a lack of caregivers.

“Many children in institutions had to shelter for weeks from bombardments in basements without electricity or running water, including children with disabilities,” the report said.

Poland, Commission launch initiative to trace abducted Ukrainian children

Poland will launch a joint initiative with the European Commission to trace Ukrainian children who have been abducted by Russia during the invasion of Ukraine, ensuring those responsible are brought to justice.

Under the leadership of European Commission President Ursula von …