Separated, asylum-seeking children in EU members states
Every year, thousands of children arrive in the European Union separated from their parents or primary caregivers, often seeking asylum. In many cases, these children have fled their country of origin displaced by war, armed conflicts, for fear of persecution or to escape from abusive environments or extreme poverty.
They may also have been trafficked for sexual or labour exploitation. Sometimes, they start their journey alone or they may have become separated from their family during the journey. Their precarious situation makes them vulnerable to human rights abuses rendering their protection critical.
This poses a serious challenge to European Union institutions and the authorities in its Member States, which have a duty to protect and care for these children. The European Council highlighted the urgency of this problem in the Stockholm Programme noting that “priority will be given to the needs of international protection and reception of unaccompanied minors”. In June 2010, the Council of the European Union invited the European Commission to assess whether current EU legislation on unaccompanied children offers them sufficient protection and agreed to ask Member States to monitor the quality of care for them.
In 2009, the FRA investigated the conditions of life and the experiences with legal procedures of separated, asylum-seeking children, engaging directly with them, as well as with adults responsible for their care. Drawing on evidence from interviews with 336 children and 302 adults, this report aims to provide a picture of the situation “on the ground” of separated, asylum-seeking children in 12 European Union Member States. The report complements FRA‟s report on child trafficking and applies FRA‟s child rights indicators. The research found that many of the rights of these children, which are often not clearly reflected in EU legal provisions, are not always fulfilled. Although under state care, these children may live in accommodation that is not suitable for them – sometimes in detention or under strict curfew rules, even if they have not committed a crime ; they are not always provided with quality medical care and do not always enjoy access to education and training that is appropriate for them. In addition, their religious needs are not always respected ; they can be victims of discrimination or even mistreated with little opportunity for redress.
Often they are insufficiently informed about legal procedures and opportunities available to them, which are crucial for their future, in such fields as education. Their views are frequently not taken into account, while their future depends on decisions, which are often taken after long and arduous processes that make the children feel insecure and unprotected.
Given the continuing conflicts in various parts of the world and the ongoing global economic crisis, separated, asylum-seeking children will continue to arrive in Europe. The challenge for the EU and its Member States will be to deal with this issue effectively, while fully respecting fundamental rights and acting in the best interests of the child.