The European Commission and the Polish government announced on Thursday a joint initiative to ensure Ukrainian children deported to Russian-controlled territory are returned.
“To deport children, this is a war crime,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyn told reporters on Thursday evening at end of the first of a two-day summit of EU leaders.
“In this field, in partnership with Ukrainians, Prime Minister Morawiecki and I have launched an initiative aiming at bringing back these children that have been abducted by Russia. For that, we will organise a conference.”
“We are at the very beginning of very hard work,” she added.
Some 16,200 Ukrainian children are believed to have been deported with only 300 returned so far, according o the Commission.
Von der Leyen described the deportations as abductions and “criminal actions completely justified the arrest warrants issued by the ICC (International Criminal Court).”
The ICC last week targeted Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the country’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights with arrest warrants, accusing them of being “allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation”
This means that if they were to travel to any of the 123 countries worldwide that recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC, they could be arrested.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo also welcomed the arrest warrant against the Russian leader on Thursday, stressing that it “limits his mobility around the world.”
The Commission chief added that the new initiative aims to “pull together international pressure to take all possible measures to establish the whereabouts of these children.”
“We aim to assist UN bodies and the relevant international organisations in obtaining better and more complete information on the children who were deported to Russia and this includes also the children who were later adopted or transferred to Russian foster families,” she said.
Russia justifies the deportations and forced naturalisation of children as a means to offer protection to guardian-less children and has used images of these children as part of its propaganda machine.
The country loosened its adoption and nationality rules to make it easier for Russian nationals to adopt Ukrainian children without parental care, and give them citizenship last spring, weeks after it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.