In 2015, approximately 30% of the 1.2 million people that applied for asylum in the EU were children. Out of these, 88,300 were unaccompanied, according to Eurostat. Over 90% of them were boys, nearly 90% between 14 and 17 years old and over half of the unaccompanied minors were coming from Afghanistan. People in Europe have been shaken by some of their stories of the past they left behind and their journey to Europe. But even when they arrive here, unaccompanied migrants are still facing major obstacles and challenges.
The problems that unaccompanied minors are facing when reaching Europe
On the occasion of World Refugee Day, Eurochild, a network promoting children’s rights, has published a series of interviews with experts working with children refugees in some of the countries that have been most affected by the influx of refugees in 2015. ‘Turning the tide for children on the move’ echoes the voice of nine child rights professionals from Greece, Italy, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and France, who share the challenges they face in their work and call upon the EU to act in the best interest of these children.
The publication highlights the precarious situation that refugee children, especially unaccompanied minors, face once they have applied for asylum in the EU Member States most affected by the massive influx of migrants. The testimonies address three main issues: the difficulties of accommodating refugees and migrant children in a family or community-based environment, their access to the education system and the perspectives of having a future in the host countries.
Access to accommodation, education and the future of migrant children
According to the experts interviewed by Eurochild, access to the foster care system for accompanied children is non-existent or very limited in some Member States. Children can be placed in large scale institutions or camps and even with other adults. This exposes them to risks to be contacted by smugglers and other criminals. If children leave institutions either due to a lack of trust or their desire to continue their journey to join family members they can become victims of human trafficking and other activities of criminal networks.
Barriers also exist when it comes to access to education. In some EU Member States schools are not being prepared to absorb large groups of immigrants. Furthermore language barrier and the distance between the schools and accommodation centres can make challenging for refugee children to follow the classes.
EU responses to the challenge of unaccompanied minors
The European Commission has recently proposed measures to cope with the situation. Following its Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors (2011-2014), the European Commission recently presented the implementation of the Priority Actions under the 2015 European Agenda on Migration. The European Commission also financially supports UNICEF, the IOM and Save the Children with the aim of building capacity in child protection systems for children in migration. Furthermore, the European Commission supports Europol and law enforcement authorities, as well as other EU agencies in their efforts to address child trafficking. Funding for this purpose also comes from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). The European Asylum Support Office plans to further develop existing best practice guidance on the assessment of the best interests of the child, including means for age assessment, family tracing, the identification of persons with special needs, and the trafficking of children. Also, Frontex will work to ensure that border guards are properly trained in the procedures to be applied with regard to children at borders.
In order to support EU Member States’ authorities in strengthening their guardianship systems and practices to ensure they are better equipped to deal with the specific needs of child victims of trafficking, the European Commission and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights have published a Handbook on Guardianship for children deprived of parental care. Furthermore, support in education for migrant children is provided via funding and the on-line European Toolkit for Schools, which offers practical information for inclusive education and the integration of migrants. (For more information see this document on the implementation of the priority actions under the European Agenda on migration).