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Honourable Vice-Speaker, dear Deputy Minister, dear Ombudswoman, dear colleagues and participants.
Let me thank the co-organisers – the Albanian People Advocate Office and Save the Children Regional Office for bringing us together today.
Let me also express gratitude to the South East Europe Children's Rights Ombudsperson Network (CRONSEE) for providing a forum that is looking at a specific issue within children's rights, the rights of migrant children.
We are all receiving the news that the flow of migrants currently entering Greece from Turkey has increased dramatically in the last weeks.
We are all aware that - as a consequence - a potential massive flow of migrants entering the Western Balkans is a scenario that deserves serious consideration and preparedness in the coming period.
This is why it is so timely that we all gather here today - not only to exchange experiences among responsible institutions in the region, but also to share concrete best practices you have had in your respective countries to cater for the specific needs of children in migration.
The migrant children face enormous challenges and threats, from losing homes, families and support systems, to the biggest threats of becoming subjects of trafficking for sexual and labour exploitations, in those – not infrequent - cases where migrant flows are facilitated by smugglers that are part of criminal organised groups.
To protect this most vulnerable group and prevent the worst-case scenarios from happening it is crucial to have a solid system of detection, prevention and care in place.
This requires everybody working together: educators, health providers, social workers, police and border police in particular, to name just a few.
To start with, right at the entry points in all respective countries a particular attention should be paid to unaccompanied minors.
Also, it is extremely important to have dedicated facilities for unaccompanied minors. These facilities should not be detention centers and should provide for adequate medical care with staff trained to cater for the specific needs of children, including – very importantly – also psychological support.
This is why we should also invest in training the border police so that it can detect, address and refer unaccompanied children to the appropriate services in the best and swiftest way.
On this last point I am very pleased that in Albania the First FRONTEX Joint Operation in the Western Balkans could be deployed as of last May. Border guards from twelve EU Member States are now deployed at the border between Albania and Greece and have been providing useful trainings in detecting people's smugglers and combating cross-border crime.
When we talk about migrant children, we should not only focus on third country national of course. We should take the same care of those minors that are leaving the region and/or are returning here. After several years abroad, they do face serious integration issues, be it in their communities, families or schools.
It would be interesting to hear from you how the responsible authorities cater for the specific needs of these children "returnees".
I think you will have opportunities to compare the situation in your respective countries and hopefully share good practices on this critical issue.
I wish you all very good discussions today that could and hopefully will lead of concrete workable solutions to this important issue.