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The UN Refugee Agency, in partnership with UNICEF and the International Rescue Committee, issued a document today to improve the situation of refugee and migrant children who arrive in Europe without their relatives or caregivers.

Aziz Jabarkheil, 8, is Afghan and waits for the return of his uncle in an abandoned warehouse in Belgrade.
Aziz Jabarkheil, 8, is Afghan and waits for the return of his uncle in an abandoned warehouse in Belgrade.

Called The Way Forward to Strenghten Policies and Practices for Unaccompanied and Separate Children in Europe, the document is a roadmap which recommends policies to be put into practice to effectively protect and support these children. The organizations recognize that regional and national laws in Europe are a good framework on this matter, but through consultations with more than 100 specialists, including psychologists, social workers and lawyers, have discovered that the current bureaucratic procedures are resulting in severe consequences for the children’s well-being and future.

“Many of these children have experienced terrible violence, sexual abuse, trafficking and emotional and psychological pressure not only during their journey but in Europe itself. They deserve better protection and care from Europe. All actions and decisions must have the child’s best interests at heart. We can all make this happen and the Roadmap shows us how,” says Diane Goodman, Deputy Director of UNHCR’s Europe Bureau.

Since the increase of migrant and refugee arrivals in Europe, in 2015, the situation for unaccompanied and separated children has worsened. They’ve faced detention and large scale institutional care, limited family reunification opportunities, and rising concerns over deportations.

Aziz kicks around a deflated football to keep warm in sub-zero conditions in Belgrade.
Aziz kicks around a deflated football to keep warm in sub-zero conditions in Belgrade.

As David McLoughlin, UNICEF’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia puts it, “refugee and migrant children travelling alone to Europe have taken paths marked by danger, bureaucratic backlogs and uncertainty at every step of the way – even at their destination. This Roadmap plots the way forward for these children to be given the same level of care, trust and protection as national children.”

For one thing, the roadmap recommends that governments identify and register children through adequate and friendly procedures, ensuring them to a guardian and protecting them from smugglers or traffickers.

South Sudanese refugee, Emmanuel is 10 years old
South Sudanese refugee, Emmanuel is 10 years old

The organization also recommends stronger emphasis on providing proper care arrangements and services, and long-term solutions to these children based on their specific needs. The importance of different actors, as guardians, cultural mediators and community members is also key.

“The children that we interviewed clearly stated the importance of being heard and empowered,” confirms Annalisa Brusati, the IRC’s Child Protection Senior Technical Advisor. “These children have hopes, dreams and an incredible energy to fulfil them. Through education, peer groups, sports and training, they can start their own projects and overcome the hardships they’ve endured, if supported and given the chance.”

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