EU actions on children in migration

Author:Ana-Maria Bolborici
Position:Senior Lecturer, PhD. Faculty of Sociology and Communication, Department of social sciences and communication, 'Transilvania' University of Brasov
Pages:46-53
SUMMARY

The subject of this paper is centered on the migrant children rights in the context of huge waves of migrants to the European Union. The principles outlined in the international human rights framework apply both to children and adults. Children are mentioned explicitly in many of the human rights instruments; standards are specifically modified or adapted where the needs and concerns surrounding a right are distinct for children. All children have the same rights; all rights are interconnected and of equal importance. Having this regard, there are 50 million children in migration worldwide - 28 million of them fled violence and insecurity; one in 200 children is a refugee; one in three children living outside country of birth is a refugee; children constitute half the refugee population; one in eight migrants is a child. There are approximative 5.4 million children migrants in Europe (about 7% of region's migrants) and is fundamental to ensure that any child needing protection receives it and that, regardless of their immigration status, all children are treated as children first and foremost.

 
CONTENT
46 ANA-MARIA BOLBORICI
EU ACTIONS ON CHILDREN IN MIGRATION
Ana-Maria BOLBORICI
Senior Lecturer, PhD
Faculty of Sociology and Communication
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SCIENCES AND COMMUNICATION
“Transilvania” University of Braşov
ana.bolborici@unitbv.ro
Abstract
The subject of this paper is centered on the migrant children rights in the context of huge waves
of migrants to the European Union. The principles outlined in the international human rights
framework apply both to children and adults. Children are mentioned explicitly in many of the
human rights instruments; standards are specifically modified or adapted where the needs and
concerns surrounding a right are distinct for children. All children have the same rights; all rights
are interconnected and of equal importance. Having this regard, there are 50 million children in
migration worldwide - 28 million of them fled violence and insecurity; one in 200 children is a
refugee; one in three children living outside country of birth is a refugee; children constitute half the
refugee population; one in eight migrants is a child. There are approximative 5.4 million children
migrants in Europe (about 7% of region's migrants) and is fundamental to ensure that any child
needing protection receives it and that, regardless of their immigration status, all children are treated
as children first and foremost.
Keywords: migration, children, human rights, asylum, European Union
The reality of the past years has revealed that a growing number of children in
migration have arrived in the EU area; the reports show that unfortunately many
of them are without their families for many reasons, for example: to escape from
wars and conflicts, poverty or natural catastrophes, discrimination or persecution,
they are sent by their family in the expectation of a better life or in order to access
education and welfare, including medical attention, to join family members, or
they are victims of trafficking destined for exploitation etc.; the massive waves of
immigrants come to Europe from different Middle East countries and Africa.
In January 2017, in Europe, 27% of asylum applicants were children (501 per
day) registered as at 12.04.2017. In 2016, 362.376 people arrived in Europe by sea;
25.800 unaccompanied or separated children arrived in Italy, by sea, in 2016; more
than quarter of a million children arrived by sea to Europe, in 2015 (314.873
children).1
1 European Commission, Justice, “Children in migration”, http://ec.europa.eu/justice/
fundamental-rights/rights-child/protection-systems/index_en.htm. Accessed: 19.09.17.
Law Review vol. VII, issue 2, Jul
y
-December 2017, pp. 46-53
EU actions on children in migration 47
As at 12 April 2017, 32.750 people had arrived by sea since 1 January 2017, of
whom 26% were children, 17% were women and 58% were men. Thirty percent
(30%) of those who arrived in Greece were children (as at 9 April 2017). Thirteen
percent (13%) of those arrived in Italy were children (as at 9 April 2017, 91%
percent of children arrived in Italy were unaccompanied).2
The majority of these unaccompanied children are boys; 13% are younger than
14 and a half are aged 16-17. In some cases, children entered the EU
unaccompanied by an adult and they travel to Europe to escape from war, conflict,
persecution, serious harm or extreme poverty. Often they travel to Europe with the
assistance of smugglers, sometimes having to work along the way to earn the
necessary money. Children risk, and will continue risking, their lives to get to
Europe by taking dangerous, sometimes fatal routes, most of the time crossing the
Aegean Sea by boat but also from Northern Africa to Italy. International
Organisation for Migration offer some statistics and they show that of 30%
recorded deaths in the Aegean Sea were children.3
More than 10,000 unaccompanied children were reported as missing in Europe
(in 2015) and nobody knows the whereabouts of these children, probably some
may have found their way to their destination and have been reunified with
families and friends; unfortunately, others may have become victims of human
trafficking.
In this regard, the EU has to face new challenges, we all know that in this
moment the organisation is passing a hard period, as we have seen the Greek
economic crisis or concerning the Brexit, these being just two of the regional major
issues.
Nowadays, this challenge is a premiere if we take into consideration the
massive impact of the migrants' wave assault on Europe, both in institutional and
human terms.4
In the last years, around thirty per cent of asylum applicants in the European
Union were children; having this respect there has been a six-fold increase in the
total number of child asylum applicants in the last six years.5
The EU has a moral duty as well as a legal responsibility for managing the
flood of migrants and refugees which is the largest movement of people Europe
has seen since the World War II.
2 Idem.
3 Eurochild,Turning the tide for children on the move, p. 2, http://www.eurochild.
org/fileadmin/public/05_Library/Turning_the_tide_children_on_the_move.pdf. Accessed: 19.09.2017.
4 Bolborici Ana-Maria, 2016, “The immigration crisis – reflections concerning the crisis of
European identity”, Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Brasov, Vol. 9 (58), No 1, Series VII:
Social Sciences · Law, p. 2.
5 European Commission, “Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament
and the Council the Protection of children in migration”, Brussels, 12.4.2017, https://ec.europa.eu/
home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/20170412_
communication_on_the_protection_of_children_in_migration_en.pdf. Accessed: 14.09.2017.
48 ANA-MARIA BOLBORICI
Since 2015, the EU has taken several measures to manage the migration crisis
as well as to improve the asylum system. In this moment the European Union is
obliged to manage the refugee crisis but also numerous issues that arise, such as
human trafficking, the problem of immigrants, the status of this migrants
(including the children's), setting up procedures concerning their assimilation or
expulsion, the status of asylum seekers etc.
Generally speaking, the state of law does not impose a separation between its
citizens from other non-EU citizens, not prevent them from having a family life;
democratic state gives its citizens the option of living a proper family life, parents
to live near their children; the EU not discriminate between its citizens with regard
to the realisation of their family life and non-EU citizens but impose a number of
general rules.
The EU Directive on Family Reunification the right to family reunification
should be practiced in accordance with the values and principles that prevail in the
Member States; in particular, must be considered and respected the rights of
women and children, as well.
The waves of migration have influenced such a serious indirect violation of the
family life and equality of many thousands of European citizens but also a
disproportionate illegal presence of non-EU citizens in this zone.
As said the first Vice-President Frans Timmermans6, children should be the
top priority as they are the most vulnerable, especially when they have nobody to
guide them. In this regard, the European Commission develop concrete actions to
better protect, support and take care of the best interests of all children who are
arriving in the European Union.
"When speaking about child migrants, we should never forget that first and
foremost they are children. Their best interests must be taken into consideration at
all stages of the migration process. Child migrants, especially those who are
unaccompanied, should be supported by guardians or foster families, as early as
possible. The integration of these children into our societies depends on how fast
they can go back to a more stable life. We will continue to support Member States
to give these children the childhood they deserve", considers Vra Jourová, the
Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.7
The migrant children live a range of experiences, many of them traumatic, they
are in a state of vulnerability, on the one hand, because of their age, the distance
from home, and on the other hand, because of their separation from parents or
extended family.
6 European Commission - Press release, “Protecting all children in migration: Commission
outlines priority actions”, Brussels, 12 April 2017, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-906_
en.htm. Accessed: 14.09.2017.
7 Idem.
EU actions on children in migration 49
Children in migration are exposed to different forms of risks like violence,
exploitation, trafficking in human beings, physical or sexual abuse after arrival on
EU territory. If these children are not protected, by the European states, they may
risk being marginalised and drawn into criminal activity or radicalization.
Both girls and boys are exposed and vulnerable, but girls are particularly at
risk of forced marriages for avoiding the sexual abuse. All these children require
specific, appropriate and immediate protection from the authorities.
Protecting the people (not only the children) in migration it means about
upholding European values of respect for human rights, dignity, and other
positive rights. The present problem of migration imposes respecting the Charter
of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and international human rights law
on the rights of the child. In this context, the protection of the children in migration
is a priority for reinforcing EU law.
The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (known as the Treaty of
Lisbon, signed on 13 December 2007) stressed that the Union shall accede to the
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms. Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the
Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as they result from
the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, shall constitute general
principles of the Union's law.
The Member States has been active, in the last years, regarding these problems
and the existing EU policies and legislation provide a solid framework for the
protection of the rights of the child in migration covering multiple aspects such as
integration, education, health measures etc.
The EU coordinate an agency named the European Asylum Support Office
(EASO) which provides tools to help Member States prepare for an influx of
asylum applicants and to implement EU legislation in the field.
EASO was established in 2010 by a Parliament and Council Regulation and
became fully operational in mid-2011. The key objectives of EASO are: to develop
practical cooperation among the Member States on asylum through facilitating
exchanges of information on countries of origin, providing support for
translation/interpretation and for training of asylum officials, and assisting in the
relocation of beneficiaries of international protection; to support the Member States
under particular pressure, in particular through the Mechanism for Early Warning,
Preparedness and Crisis Management, and the coordination of Asylum Support
Teams.8
8 For more details see European Parliament, “European Asylum Support Office (EASO)“ 5
February 2015, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2015/5 48973/EPRS_
ATA%282015%29548973_REV1_EN.pdf. Accessed: 18.09.17
50 ANA-MARIA BOLBORICI
One European framework for the protection of the rights of the child in
migration is offered by the Action9 Plan on Unaccompanied Minors (2010-2014).
This document highlights the prevention of unsafe migration and trafficking of
children as the first step in effectively tackling the issue of unaccompanied minors.
The actions and policies must be differentiated according to the group the
unaccompanied minors belongs to (e.g. asylum seekers, victims of trafficking in
human beings, minors illegally entering the EU territory for the purpose of work
or other) and/or the country or region of origin.10
The Action Plan had identified and stresses that the main axes of intervention
are, as follows;11 the EU and the Member States need to continue their efforts to
integrate migration and in particular the migration of unaccompanied minors, in
development cooperation, in key areas such as poverty reduction, education,
health, labour policy, human rights and democratisation and post-conflict
reconstruction.
The document argues that some actions could be directed, on the one side, at
the children and, at the other side, at those who are in direct contact with them.
The Action Plan mentions that can be targeted awareness-raising activities and
training should be promoted in countries of origin and transit to improve early
identification and protection of potential victims of trafficking in human beings.
These activities should imply the potential victims and their communities, but also
the law enforcement officers, border guards and other relevant actors.
Other activities should focus on informing children and their families about
the risks associated with irregular migration to the EU, about alternative
possibilities of studying, training and working in the country of origin and about
the legal paths to study in the EU.
It is also important to involve diasporas in the EU in these awareness-raising
activities in their countries of origin, as well as to use informal channels of
communication with the communities of origin to dispel false myths about life in
Europe.
Even if this Action Plan is thought for prevention the future massive waves of
migrant people (also children), actually the EU continue to promote the
development of child protection systems, to prevent and respond to risks of
violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect of children, to support children who are
not in the care of their families and to provide protection to children in special
institutions.12
9 For more details see Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the
Council Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors (2010 – 2014), Brussels 6.5.2010.
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUri
Serv. do?uri=COM:2010:0213:FIN:en:PDF. Accessed: 18.09.17
10 Idem.
11 Idem, p. 7.
12 Idem.
EU actions on children in migration 51
The EU considers that is important to continue the supporting of the birth
registration systems which, through ensuring that all children have a legal identity
(even if the parents of those children haven't European citizenship) and thus access
to their legal rights, playing an important role in child protection.
In April 2017 some members of the European Parliament had stressed that
detention or any confinement of children, whether unaccompanied or within
families, should be prohibited.13 They also say that the Member states must ensure
that every unaccompanied minor gets a guardian from the moment of their arrival
in the EU, as well as immediate access to health care and education under the same
conditions as national minors.
The European Commission outlined (in April 2017) a few priority actions14 to
improve the protection of children in migration and ensure a close link between
the asylum and child protection services.
The Commission agrees that is important to assure a swift identification and
protection upon arrival; a person responsible for child protection should be present
at an early stage of the registration phase and in all reception facilities hosting
children and child protection officers should be appointed in each hotspot. Also,
the Commission stressed that is necessary that the Member States should put in
place the necessary procedures to systematically report and exchange information
on all missing children.
The Commission has to ensure adequate reception conditions for children; the
needs of each child must be assessed as early as possible upon arrival and all
children need to have access to legal assistance, healthcare, psychosocial support
and education without delay and regardless of their status. For unaccompanied
minors, the possibility of foster or family-based care should be provided.
Foster care is a way of providing a family life for children who cannot live
with their own parents for different reasons. Foster care is often used to provide
temporary care while parents get help sorting out problems, or to help children or
young people through a difficult period in their lives. Separated children arrive
into foster care managing difficult experiences and multiple pressures in their
journey toward settlement. These include displacement, loss of family, abuse and
persecution. They then have to manage the multiple and sometimes conflicting,
ways they are processed by the state where immigration concerns can take
precedence over access to welfare.15
13European Parliament, ”Ease access to labour market for asylum-seekers to boost integration,
MEPs say”, 25.04.2017. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20170425IPR72302/
ease-access-to-labour-market-for-asylum-seekers-to-boost-integration-meps-say. Accessed: 18.09.17
14 Idem. European Commission - Press release, “Protecting all children in migration: Commission
outlines priority actions“, Brussels, 12 April 2017, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-906_
en.htm. Accessed: 19.09.2017.
15 University of Oxford, Research in Fostering and Education, ”Key Points-Migrant children in
foster care”, http://reescentre.education.ox.ac.uk/research/teenagers-in-foster-care/migrant-chil
dren-in-foster-care/key-points-migrant-children-in-foster-care/. Accessed: 19.09.17
52 ANA-MARIA BOLBORICI
Another imperative issues stressed by the Commission is the swift status
determination and effective guardianship for migrant children and regarding this,
the role of guardians for unaccompanied minors should be strengthened. To this
end, the Commission is decided to establish a European guardianship network to
exchange good practices. In all procedures related to the migration process, cases
with children should always be given priority. Concerted efforts should also be
made to speed up family tracing and family reunification procedures, within or
outside the EU.
The Commission considers that must be found durable solutions and early
integration measures and having this regard will further promote the integration
of children through funding and the exchange of good practices. Member States
are called upon to step up resettlement of children in need of protection and to
ensure that family tracing and reintegration measures are put in place for those
children who are to be returned.
The EU has stepped up its work with partner countries on mainstreaming
child protection in migration under the Migration Partnership Framework. The
European Commission realizes that further efforts are needed to support partner
countries in strengthening national child protection systems and in preventing
child trafficking.
According to the latest Eurobarometer16 poll, 73% of Europeans still want the
EU to do more to manage the situation. However, 58% of respondents think the
EU’s actions regarding migration are inadequate, 8% points less than last year.
As we often seen on the daily news, children in migration are often placed in
detention centres, in big camps with adults, having no possibility to grow up in a
family environment, to interact with the community, or follow mainstream
education. Unaccompanied children feel insecure and threatened and often run
away from shelters because they want to get to their destination and family
reunification may take up to a year. Adding to this insecurity, children are rarely
informed of their rights and face very uncertain futures.
Under this circumstances, the Member States should ensure that migrant
children’s rights are respected and that they are respected alongside the rights of
all other children. All children have the right to grow up in a family environment
in the community, free from violence, have access to education, to healthcare and
leisure time as they are enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
For these reasons children’s needs should be examined in an individualized way
and children should participate in the decisions that affect their lives.
16 The Eurobarometer survey was conducted among 27,901 people from all EU countries on
18-27 March and was set up to be representative of the population as a whole. For more details see
“Migration crisis: 73% of Europeans wants EU to do more“. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/
news/en/headlines/priorities/20170904TST83006/20170505STO73515/migration-crisis-73- of-euro
peans-wants-eu-to-do-more. Accessed: 18.09.17
EU actions on children in migration 53
The EU and the Members states are necessary to respect the ratified
agreements and Conventions and open the borders for the people that are fleeing
their war-torn homes. The EU institutions should lead the creation of a European
system for the identification and protection of the unaccompanied children. The
failure of the EU politics in this regard often serves as an excuse not to do very
much for the protection of the unaccompanied children which experience
migration.
As a final conclusion, is determined, concerted and coordinated follow-up to
the key actions set out is required at the EU, national, regional and local level, also
in cooperation with civil society and international organizations.
And as we stressed up, in all procedures related to the migration process, cases
with children should always be given top priority because they are sensitive,
vulnerable and they need special treatment. Children have the right to be
protected, in line with relevant provisions of EU law, including the EU Charter of
Fundamental Rights, and with international law on the rights of the child.
The child's best interests must be the primary consideration in all actions or
decisions concerning children.17
17 Idem. European Commission - Press release, ”Protecting all children in migration: Commission
outlines priority actions”, Brussels, 12 April 2017, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_
IP-17-906_en.htm. Accessed: 19.09.2017.