Remarks by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at "Arria-formula" meeting of UNSC members on combating forced separation and illegal exploitation of children
We welcome you to this Arria meeting of Security Council members on combating forced separation and illegal exploitation of children.
Since our previous similar meeting on April 5, 2023, where we spoke about the measures taken by Russia to save children from the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine and the crimes of the Kiev regime, we have received numerous appeals about flagrant violations against Ukrainian refugee children in various European countries. These were primarily cases where children were separated from their parents or where orphans were trafficked from Ukraine to Europe, and then lost track of. We could not remain indifferent to this situation and tried to publicize cases of those migrants and refugees who asked us to do so. The number of such appeals was growing, and more and more new facets of this problem, which requires the attention of Security Council members, were revealed. That is why we decided to hold today's meeting.
We realize that our Western colleagues dislike this topic and therefore will most likely spread the well-known narrative about our alleged abductions of Ukrainian children and their "forced" transfer to Russian territory. And this is despite the fact that we are talking about saving people and children who have found themselves on territory that Ukrainian armed forces have been bombing from West-supplied weapons.
Since the start of the special military operation, Russian regions have received more than five million residents of Ukraine and the Donbas republics who have voluntarily left for Russia. Of these, more than 730,000 are children. The overwhelming majority of these children arrived with their parents or other relatives. Only 2,000 of them are from orphanages of the DPR and LPR, who arrived together with principals and educators from their institutions. Of these, only 358 children were placed in families. And this was either temporary guardianship or provisional custody. There is no talking about adoptions. At the same time, we have repeatedly emphasized that if we receive requests from relatives of these children, they will be immediately handed over to them.
Nevertheless, Western countries purposefully inflate this situation and try to present it as a problem. While in fact, Western colleagues leave without attention the situation with movement of Ukrainian children, including unaccompanied children, not eastwards but to Europe, and their placement in foster families there. According to estimates, among Ukrainian refugees who arrived there in 2022-2023, about two million were under 18 years of age. According to the official data of the European Commission, more than 23,000 were unaccompanied. As admitted by European officials, the exact figures are not available due to the imperfect system of registration of minors in European countries. There is no system of registration and assistance to this category of persons. Nevertheless, this state of affairs is no longer presented in the West as forced displacement or deportation of children without parental consent, but as their salvation from the horrors of war.
We will provide just some of the data.
As early as March 29, 2022, 85 underage children from the Paraskovievskaya special boarding school No. 40 in the Bakhmut (Artemovsk) district of the DPR, many of whom have cognitive and other disabilities, were taken to Spain by a Spanish military plane through Poland. On April 1, 2022, the children were placed in a school in the city of Salamanca and placed under "constant supervision" by the regional government's social services. After a series of visits and interviews, social workers stated the lack of the necessary specialized attention to the disabled children, as well as the unsatisfactory conditions for lodging and accommodation. Since September 2022, those children have been under care of Valladolid Social Services Department, where they were transferred and distributed to different specialized institutions, ostensibly for the welfare and better organization of their lives. Currently, there is no information about these children. Their status and prospects are also unclear.
In March 2022, a number of NGOs, such as ‘Dnipro Kids’, ‘Save a Child’ and ‘Magen David Adom UK’ were engaged in taking out Ukrainian children to the UK. At that time "Dnipro Kids" alone took out 56 orphans from 5 Ukrainian orphanages. The children were accompanied by the employees of Ukrainian social institutions, who initially took care of them and are considered by local authorities to be their guardians. It is noteworthy that they did not enter through the "Homes for Ukrainians" program, which allows Ukrainian citizens to go to the United Kingdom in the presence of so-called "sponsors" - the British, ready to accommodate refugees in their homes – but imposes more stringent (in fact, on an individual basis) requirements for the entry of minors. The decision to issue visas was made with personal participation of the British Home Secretary.
According to Portugal's official statistics, 14,249 children with temporary protection status were registered in the country as of June this year, of whom 739 entered unaccompanied.
In Belgium, 1,043 minors of Ukrainian origin were identified as having entered unaccompanied. 111 of them belong to the category of small-aged (under 11 years). 115 children received formal state-established guardianship, while the rest found shelter at relatives and acquaintances to whom their parents had initially sent them. No strict control over them is either exercised or anticipated.
According to the Italian Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, at the end of 2022, of the 5,042 unaccompanied children arriving in the country, almost 83% (about 4,200 children) were placed in families. Of them about 2,270 were placed in unrelated families and the rest in specialized facilities.
We should like to ask the countries in question about the fate of those children, especially the ones who arrived unaccompanied by parents or legal representatives. Also, what is the fundamental difference between these children and those evacuated to Russia from the combat zone by the Russian authorities and humanitarian organizations? Why is the temporary guardianship or provisional custody of Ukrainian children by Russian families presented as forced adoption, while a similar placement with European families is presented as acting in the best interests of the child?
This is another case of double standards that Western states are cultivating.
We should also like to draw attention to the alarming statistics from UNICEF, according to which only one out of three Ukrainian refugee children attends school during the school year. According to the European Commission, 75% of Ukrainian children of school age attended classes in Spain, 71% in Italy, 66% in the Netherlands, only 39% in seemingly well-off Germany, and 37% in Poland and the Czech Republic. To a large extent, such depressing statistics are due to the discrepancy between the educational programs of Ukraine and European countries. Children are forced to learn in other languages, which leads to them lagging behind in learning, additional stress and, as a consequence, the risk of dropping out of the education system as a whole. As a result, such children are left to fend for themselves in a foreign country and run increased risks of falling into the hands of abusers, being exploited (including sexual exploitation) or being subjected to violence. It is also important to point out that since the Arria meeting in April, we have received calls regarding separation of children from their parents, who are mostly in Europe with them. We have been informed of dozens such cases. Refugees do not know who to turn to on these issues. Moreover, we have received signals not only from Ukrainians, but also from citizens of other countries, EU states included. All this drives us at a conclusion that this problem is very grave and widespread.
The international legal framework for the protection of children includes the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Those instruments protect the right of the child not to be separated from their family unless it is in the child's best interests, prohibit arbitrary and unlawful interference in the child's private and family life and interference with the inviolability of the home. The examples our speakers will give us will demonstrate that there are serious problems with the protection system for refugee and migrant children in a number of countries.
Today we have the opportunity to see that the problem of forcible separation and exploitation of children in European countries, unfortunately, continues to be very acute. We can see from the example of Ukrainian families living in Western countries what difficulties people have to face, especially in the context of access to legal assistance. Receiving no support from local authorities and Ukrainian diplomatic institutions, they turn to us.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, today we heard from Western countries their standard and, frankly, false and primitive narrative about the “abduction” of Ukrainian children by Russia. These countries seem to have some hearing impairments. They don't hear and don't want to hear what they are being told. And they also have a problem with their conscience if they dare to call the rescue of children from combat zones and their protection with such terms as abductions and forced deportations. You even differ in figures: France speaks of 500 children allegedly abducted, the US speaks of thousands, the UK speaks of 19,000. But the OHCHR, which also speaks of allegedly abducted children, limits itself to the number of 200. However, these countries have long been keeping afloat this utterly false narrative that Kiev has put in their mouths on the basis of data from so-called independent boards of inquiry.
On the subject of today's meeting, our Western colleagues have not bothered to say anything except that Russia distracts attention, promoting a false narrative, blaming the EU countries and the United Kingdom, which of course are beacons of the rule of law, where nothing of the sort can happen by definition.
To the representative of the United Kingdom I would like to say that it is unacceptabe to insult independent briefers when you simply lack arguments to refute what they have said. This is not in line with mutual and respectful dialogue and the recognition of the role of civil society, for which you advocate so much. Unfortunately, the UK delegation is making a habit of it, as we have seen at Security Council meetings.
Facts and evidence of violations and crimes against children that arrive in Europe from regions engulfed in armed conflict confirm that the protection of the lives, health, honor, dignity and the rights of migrant and refugee children must remain at the forefront of public attention. We call on European NGOs not to lose sight of this issue. For our part, we will contribute to this in every possible way, including by organizing events like this, promoting the truth rather than the false narratives of some of you. All those who have faced a similar calamity and are interested in having their cases publicized can write to us at EuropeStealsChildren@gmail.com.