As citizens of Europe, we are deeply concerned by the human rights breaches of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) that have travelled to Europe since the height of the migration crisis. We call on the Justice and Home Affairs Council to take immediate action.
These are children who have fled war and famine, witnessed the bloody murder of family and friends, who have sailed past the floating dead bodies of their fellow country men, women and children and we believe that when they arrive on European shores, they should be guaranteed safety, and the protection of their basic rights.
As you are surely aware, they are currently arriving in overcrowded Hotspots in Greece and Italy which cannot give them the care and protection they need. These facilities have been described as “squalid” and “deplorable”, they lack reliable access to food and water, sanitation, access to physical and psychological health care and access to education.
Children arriving at Hotspots do not have guaranteed access to age-appropriate information about applying for asylum, the Dublin transfer and family reunification processes, or a guardian or legal representative to help them understand their rights.
Smugglers discourage them from registering at borders and Hotspots or legally applying for asylum. The children’s distrust in European child protection services and the legal relocation/reunification process is compounded by reality that the Dublin transfer system carries a lengthy waiting period of up to 12 months.
If they do apply for asylum, they are often treated with suspicion and disbelief by authorities, are subjected to invasive age-assessments and gruelling interviews about their motivations and can be held in detention indefinitely. Unsurprisingly, many children – fearful of the system and desperate to reach their chosen destination – are more willing to trust smugglers and traffickers to transport them.
All of the above are examples of how these children’s rights have been breached – and are contributing factors in a staggering 50% of UASC going missing from Hotspots within 48 hours of arriving.
We’re sure you are aware that an estimated 10,000 children have gone missing within Europe since the height of the crisis. Many have been trafficked into sex slavery and other forms of exploitation – and tens of thousands more remain at risk.
We implore the Justice and Home Affairs Council to act immediately and implement an EU-wide, cohesive policy that ensures the rights of UASC in Europe are protected, that they are cared for, have access to education, healthcare and safe accommodation and that their applications for asylum, relocation and family reunification are processed swiftly. Please see our detailed list of demands below.
The EU is facing the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. We will not stand by and let it continue to be one of the greatest human rights breaches.
We want a commitment from EU Member States that they will develop a coherent, harmonised and durable approach to fulfilling their duties to protect the rights of the child by:
1) Recognising all children in the EU first and foremost as children rather than migrants.
2) Establishing specialist child protection services to uphold the best interests of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) from the moment of arrival.
3) Identifying unaccompanied migrant children upon disembarkation – through appropriate age assessment following best practice where necessary – registering them, taking fingerprints, carrying out a preliminary risk and needs assessment, ensuring referral to relevant child protection services/national anti-trafficking referral mechanisms in a timely manner.
4) Ensuring that measures are in place to identify survivors of sexual and gender based violence, and refer them to appropriate services, and that all facilities are established to minimize risks, including through appropriate sleeping facilities, separate male and female sanitary facilities, and adequate lighting.
5) Prioritising and adequately resourcing family tracing, inter-state collaboration, and locating their families.
6) Providing welcoming, child-friendly spaces where UASC are interviewed appropriately (within strict guidelines, taking into account the trauma they have already suffered before departing for and arriving in the EU) and can begin building trusting relationships with social workers and caregivers.
7) Providing them with age appropriate information about asylum applications , relocation and family reunification.
8) Appointing them with a guardian or advisor/legal representative.
9) Prioritising the processing of applications for protection by UASC eligible for relocation or transfer to another member state to join family members under the Dublin Regulations.
10) Ensuring that UASC views are heard when determining what is in their best interests.
In addition to this, child protection systems must include measures to prevent UASC going missing by:
1) Providing them with high-quality care and accommodation. UASC should never be accommodated in detention centres, particularly with adults.
2) Providing them with an independent guardian and legal representative.
3) Providing access to education.
4) Providing access to physical and mental health care.
6) Tackling misinformation by traffickers.
7) Speeding up relocation and reunification times and ensuring UASC understands these processes clearly.
In the case that a UASC goes missing, guardians and local authorities have an obligation to treat the case with the urgency they would any other missing child by:
1) Reporting missing UASC immediately to the police and to the national 116000 missing children hotline.
2) Logging a missing child alert in the SIS II.
3) Cooperating in cross-border and transnational search investigations with border control police, social workers, law enforcement agencies and emergency hotlines.
National and local police forces have an obligation to:
1) Treat missing UASC cases with the urgency and seriousness they would any other missing child.
2) Launch local, and cooperate with transnational, investigations into organised crime trafficking networks.
At present, there are only a few countries (notably Italy and Greece) shouldering the responsibility of UASC, stretching their resources well past capacity. In order to alleviate this strain, member states must:
1) Take an allocated number of UASC as well as – or within their – existing relocation commitments.
1) Ensuring safe and legal passage for refugees travelling to Europe through the establishment or expansion of: humanitarian visa or access programs, flexible family reunification procedures, student scholarship programmes and increased resettlement and relocation commitments.
2) Ensuring that families are not separated at borders or elsewhere during migration.
3) Insisting that the E.U. Member States intensify their efforts to find the alarming number of already missing UASC.
These demands were complied based on the following documents:
- Revised Transcript of Evidence taken before The EU sub-committee on Home Affairs inquiry on Unaccompanied Minors in the EU. Evidence session 10, 27 April 2016.
- Revised Transcript of Evidence taken before The EU sub Committee on Home Affairs inquiry on Unaccompanied Minors in the EU. Session 7, 27 April 2016.
- European Council for Refugees and Exiles– Supplementary written evidence presented to the Home Affairs sub committee (UME0040)
- Unrevised transcript of evidence taken before The EU Sub-Committee on Home Affairs Inquiry on Unaccompanied Minors in the EU. Evidence session 2, 23 March 2016.
- Revised Transcript of evidence taken before The EU sub-committee on Home Affairs inquiry on Unaccompanied minors in the EU. Evidence session 8. 27 April 2016
- Revised Transcript of evidence taken before The EU sub-committee on Home Affairs inquiry on Unaccompanied Minors in the EU. Evidence session 9. 27 April 2016
- Margaret Tuite Supplementary Written Evidence presented to the Home Affairs sub committee (UME0038)
- UN High Level Summit for Refugees and Migrants Declaration. 5th August 2016
- ‘5 point plan to tackle the refugee crisis’ 14 September 2016. Save the Children
- ‘UNHCR Guidelines on Determining the Best Interests of the Child’ The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) May 2008.
- Save the Children written evidence ‘Alone in Europe: Why the EU and UK government must do more to protect the most vulnerable children in Europe’ (In order of appearance: 3.14, 1.4, 3.11, 3.13)
- Revised transcript of evidence taken before the EU Sub-Committee on Home Affairs inquiry on Unaccompanied minors in the EU. Evidence session 1, 16 March 2016
- Written Evidence by the Irish Refugee Council (UME0005) 9 March 2016
- ILPA supplementary written evidence (UME0035) ‘The Value of the EU action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors 2010-2014; Whether it should be renewed; and, if so, what should be its priorities’
- Summary of Written Evidence from Missing Children Europe (UME0018). 10 March 2016
- ‘Children in crisis: unaccompanied migrant children in the EU’ 2nd Report of Session 2016–17. Published by House Of Lords.