On the occasion of the annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Caritas Europa joins Pope Francis in calling everyone to pay attention to the reality of child migrants, “especially the ones who are alone... who in a threefold way are defenseless: they are children, they are foreigners, and they have no means to protect themselves”. We urge European Member States to fully comply with the best interests of the child when responding to cases of unaccompanied children seeking protection.
“Our older brother was kidnapped by ISIS and we have no news from him. Our situation became unbearable, so we decided to leave Afghanistan on foot and we have travelled a month and a half to get to Greece. Unfortunately during the trip in Iran we lost our father and we don't know where he is. To get from Turkey to Greece we had to pay 1000 euros per person to the smugglers for a 5 hour ride, not knowing if we would survive the trip. We hope that our father and our brother are alive and that we can all gather in a safer place. It wasn't a trip. It was a killer trip”, explained Mujdah and Mohebullah, 15 and 8 year-old sister and brother from Afghanistan.
The best interest of the child principle is stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prescribes that “[in] all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”. The same principle is defined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This principle is specifically true in cases of unaccompanied minors. Their specific needs must have absolute priority over any other consideration. Consequently, all law-making, political and practical activities must aim at ensuring that protection of these children is as effective as possible.
Migration is a global reality that affects millions of children. The figures talk for themselves. According to UNICEF’s estimates, nearly 50 million children have migrated or been forcibly displaced in the world. More than half of them – 28 million – have fled their homes due to conflict and violence. For children, and especially those unaccompanied, migration is steadily becoming a tragic situation of global proportion as more and more people are forced to leave their homes in the hope of finding safety, peace and security. Children are commonly facing inadequate and unsafe reception conditions, where facilities staff may be unqualified or inadequately trained to respond to their needs. This is especially true if the children experienced horrendous forms of human rights violations.
In addition, many unaccompanied children have been traumatised by the experiences they had to endure during their flight and on their way to Europe. Then, after their arrival in Europe, they typically face a strange, unfamiliar environment, where reception conditions are not suitable for children and staff are ill prepared to respond professionally. Unable to turn to family members or other familiar persons to seek guidance, protection or emotional comfort, these children are especially vulnerable. Moreover, as children, they face even greater difficulties than adults in coping with the bureaucratic and technical requirements of recognition procedures.
“Unaccompanied children constitute the most vulnerable group since they are invisible and voiceless. Without their parents, relatives or any other responsible adult to accompany them, they become easy prey for unscrupulous criminals and at overfilled processing posts,” said Jorge Nuño Mayer, Secretary General of Caritas Europa.
Considering these many challenges, Caritas Europa urges European States to join Pope Francis’s appeal to care for the defenseless migrant children who have no means to protect themselves and to not apply a one-size-fits-all approach, but to respond in accordance to the best interests of the child. At the same time, European leaders must enable legal channels so that children are not depending on traffickers to reach Europe. Hence, States should:
- Contribute to achieving more ambitious resettlement and humanitarian admission targets;
- Comply with the Family Reunification Directive to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are given a chance to live their childhoods to the fullest, within the safety of their families;
- Issue humanitarian visas as an effective way to protection or lift visa requirements, especially in cases where greater numbers of persons must flee an individual State in search of protection;
- Apply the Temporary Protection Directive, if need be, to allow persons seeking protection to travel safely and spend their money on ordinary travel means rather than paying smugglers;
- Improve the protection of children seeking asylum in proposals to reform the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).
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