Daphne Toolkit

Unaccompanied minors as a vulnerable group - Political action on a European level - The MinMig project

Project Reference Number: 

Unaccompanied minors as a vulnerable group - Political action on a European level - The MinMig project

The project aimed to provide a better identification and description of a potential risk group and improve the situation of unaccompanied minor migrants in Europe.
This project produced a study that built on a previous one, based on life stories with the children themselves. A database was compiled and leaflets and reports were disseminated. There were round-table meetings with experts and many interviews with both beneficiaries and target groups.


This project built on an earlier Daphne project which surveyed the legal and social framework in three EU countries: Germany (Berlin), Finland (Helsinki) and Italy (Rome and Florence) related to the reception, treatment and outcomes of unaccompanied minor migrants.  This further phase aimed, through face-to-face contact with minor migrants in the three partner countries, to identify gaps and obstacles in the reception and treatment of minor migrants, and to draw up recommendations for European policy makers.  At the same time, existing mechanisms were re-surveyed to bring understanding of the framework up to date.
The work was effected through interviews by the three partners in their own countries, based on agreed (but not necessarily identical) methodologies and protocols; comparative and national analysis was undertaken through reporting of the partners and then meetings for discussion and review of progress. 

The Berlin element of the project, for example, interviewed 20 children/young people, thanks to the cooperation of two educational/training institutes which offer German and maths courses for  minor migrants.  The young people knew their teachers/social work contacts and a relationship of trust was already in place.  The three interviewers spent a block of time in the institutes so that the young people became familiar with them.  The young people were offered an honorarium of 30 DM for the time they gave to the interviewer, as a sign of good faith and to reflect the importance of the exercise.  Each interview was attended by two workers: one asking questions/encouraging recollection; the second taking notes.  Sometimes a third worker was present, in which case two workers took notes.  Both factual accounts and impressions/deductions were then shared in a case discussion.  The young people were generally between 16 and 20 years of age (the older adolescents being able to recall their experiences).

This methodology was more or less replicated in the partner countries, with some differences reflecting national structures and processes.  A comparative analysis of results was undertaken through meetings and consultation and resulted in joint recommendations at European level.

Lessons and ideas

1.  It is rare for young people themselves to be the main source of input to investigations and recommendations concerning their well-being.  This is a good and rare example of ‘child participation’ at its most fundamental.  The project sponsor also demonstrated clear thinking on important factors to take into account if participation is to work, eg the need to avoid raising young people’s expectations that things will change at a political level as a direct result of their input.  This project was also innovative in having as its target beneficiary group unaccompanied minor migrants (both legal and illegal), who are rarely singled out for assistance.

2. It is important always to keep in mind the possibility that people wishing to abuse children may infiltrate the groups of those working into the project: social workers, short-term or volunteer interviewers etc.  It is the nature of abusers that they are able to manipulate their way into such positions; it is the nature of this type of project that young people are called on to divulge personal information and thus illustrate their vulnerability. While there is a limit to the filtering that the project team can undertake, and while it is also true that the social workers/teachers etc belong to structures which themselves have a responsibility to check for possible infiltration, this is an issue that nevertheless should always be borne in mind.

3. Despite a diversity of motivations for migrating and current social life situations of the young people, some common patterns do exist in each country. It became clear that effective protection measures provided by the responsible institutions have a strong impact on the general well-being of those who are the ‘users’. 

4. According to international laws and regulations, measures of protection should be enforced by each government. However, the major role of NGOs in fulfilling these duties of protection has to be pointed to. Those measures range, among others, from the supply of adequate accommodation and care, to educational measures and legal counselling, both on an official and informal level.

5. One political recommendation given at the end of the first project phase, pointed to the necessity of further European networking:
“During the last few years, initiatives and organisations working on behalf of unaccompanied minors have been newly established or further developed all over Europe. To widen their network and to intensify their action on a European level, the co-operation between organisations lobbying for unaccompanied minors should be supported and promoted by the European Commission. Contacts should be established with similar organisations situated in the countries of origin”.

6. The real-life situations of unaccompanied minor migrants in three investigated European countries, however, were found to be so diverse, that the need for local action proved to be the primary focus for improvement. One precondition for improvement is to look for examples of good practices and to see if their modified application to the respective national situation is possible. For this to occur, information on other local practices is essential and therefore the necessity of exchange on a European level was emphasized. 

7. On a European level, however, political action is essential. Looking at the development during the last few years, in general, the numbers of juvenile refugees migrating to EU member countries are relatively low, and, as the Italian partner stated, “there is no emergency at all”. Therefore, a more generous practice in both reception and integration seems to be justified more than ever. This, again, should be orientated towards their minor age and not, as currently practised, towards their attribution as being migrants. To ensure that basic children and juveniles rights are not violated, a common European strategy is necessary in order to monitor practices in the individual countries.


Lead organisation: 

Material available

- Project information (leaflets) in English
- Three country reports on the state of research, March 2001
- Three country reports on the state of research, June 2001
- Three country reports on the methodology, September 2001
- Three reports on the updated country situation and interview analysis in Finnish, German and Italian, December 2001
- English translations of individual country reports; published as working papers at “Edition Parabolis”; February 2002
- Comparative analysis in English; published as a working paper at “Edition Parabolis”; February 2002