Urgent action needed to return Ukrainian children illegally taken to Russia - Mijatović

Urgent action needed to return Ukrainian children illegally taken to Russia - Mijatović

Urgent measures are needed to reunite Ukrainian children illegally taken to Russia with their families, while Russia’s refusal to return them is a "serious violation of their human rights."

This was stated by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, following her visit to Ukraine focused on the human rights situation of Ukrainian children transferred to the Russian Federation and to the territories of Ukraine under Russian occupation.

“Russia’s failure to return Ukrainian children separated from their families and legal guardians is a serious violation of their human rights. Concrete mechanisms and solutions must urgently be identified and used to reunite these children with their families,” she said.

Read also: More than 300 children returned from temporarily occupied territories to Ukraine - Lubinets

It is noted that there are various categories of children illegally taken to the Russian Federation. One category are orphans and children in care institutions.  According to many of the Commissioner’s interlocutors in Kyiv, the Russian authorities frequently maintain that the children are either orphans or without parental care, and routinely change their guardianship arrangements or place them in foster care. This often happens without the authorities making sufficient efforts towards establishing or contacting the children’s relatives or existing legal guardians back in Ukraine. However, the Commissioner was informed by the Ukrainian authorities that the Ukrainian children who have been taken to Russia currently have legal guardians appointed in Ukraine.

Another category are unaccompanied children whose parents or carers were killed, injured, detained, or disappeared during the hostilities, for example as a result of the Russian shelling of Mariupol and surrounding areas. Some children have reportedly been separated from their families during the so-called “filtration” process or during transfer to the Russian Federation. Further, in areas that have come under the temporary control of Russian forces, some children have been sent to recreational camps in various parts of Russia or in territories of Ukraine occupied by Russia, such as Crimea.

“Many have not been returned to their parents at the end of the stipulated period of stay, as camp authorities reportedly refuse to hand them over unless their parents collect them in-person. It is reported that the children held in such camps are being subjected to indoctrination into a pro-Russian worldview and historical narrative demeaning Ukrainian identity, and that anti-Ukrainian sentiment is commonplace,” the report says.

It is noted that some Ukrainian children taken to Russia were given Russian citizenship, while some of the children may have later been adopted.

The Commissioner recalled that changing children’s personal status, including their nationality, by an occupying force is further prohibited by Articles 49 and 50 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Commissioner underlines that children separated from their parents during a humanitarian emergency cannot be presumed to be orphans and are not available for adoption, which should never occur during or immediately after emergencies. She stressed that the failure to return Ukrainian children taken to Russia to their parents or legal guardians is a clear violation of those children’s human rights.

“The reunification of Ukrainian children with their families and legal guardians in Ukraine or in third countries cannot wait. Measures to facilitate family reunification should be taken as soon as possible,” stressed the Commissioner.

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