More than 45 child and refugee rights organisations have called on the EU and its member states to address the most urgent protection gaps in the treatment of child migrant rights at a conference in Malta. The ECRE Weekly Bulletin has spoken to Elona Bokshi, ECRE Senior Policy and Project Officer – Children about the perspective and challenges revealed at the conference.
A relatively broad field of participants were present at the event. Is there in your opinion a growing consensus across different actors on challenges and solutions in the protection of the rights of child migrants?
It is a critical moment to strengthen the joint advocacy efforts both at EU and national level. Rather than individualized advocacy efforts based on the protection of the rights of specific target groups such as separated children or asylum seeking unaccompanied minors, missing children or undocumented children etc. we see actors coming together to jointly advocate for a comprehensive and right based approach policy framework to all children.
So, indeed there is a growing concern for the protection of migrant’s children rights and the need that they should be identified as children, first and foremost, rather than some sub-category of migrants – the broader definition ‘children on the move’ illustrates that approach.
One of the key challenges addressed at the conference was children going missing or children lost in migration. Could you sum up the main causes and consequences of this phenomenon?
Last year the estimated figures by Europol that 10.000 migrant children were missing ‘shocked’ many EU official, journalist etc. but the truth is that the real figure could well be much higher. In general, disaggregated information such as on non- asylum seeking children, data and information about profiles of child migrants are fragmented and do not provide any details about the gender and age of the children.
Reasons for children going missing are diverse and include the fear of a negative decision on the asylum application or family reunification procedures, the fear of being detained and deported, poor conditions in shelters, ineffective guardian systems or being at the mercy of a smuggling or trafficking gangs also play a significant role.
The conference conclusions offers a set of operational and policy recommendations. Could you outline the most relevant ones?
The best interest of the child should guide all the decisions as a fundamental guiding principle. It was established that detention can never be in the best interest of the child and by definition is a violation of their rights. In addition, the quality of the reception facilities and services should be ensured by all Member States in line with the rights and the needs of the children. It is also vital for unaccompanied children in need of protection to have quality legal assistance at all stages of the asylum process. Moreover, it is important to have a functioning Guardianship system in place and the guardians should be trained not only in child care but also in the safeguards of the child’s best interest. At the same time, Children should be empowered, heard and able to express their views and participate in all decisions related to their future.
Last but not least the overall policy framework recommendations are at the heart of our joint advocacy.
The conference reflected an awareness of protection gaps and potential solutions. Where do we go from here – what are the next steps?
The conference conclusions outlined in this document are open for endorsement so I would encourage ECRE membership to endorse the recommendations and disseminate at national level. Policy on migration is currently decided at a very high political level. This requires strengthening the links between EU and national advocacy, to push potential allies to step forward jointly for a more progressive EU strategy on children.
In terms of the joint advocacy efforts, ECRE together with other child rights NGOs based in Brussels, are closely working together to promote a comprehensive child rights approach through the project partnership entitled ‘Putting migrant children’s rights at the heart of the EU Agenda.’ Strengthening joint advocacy efforts through EU advocacy meeting and targeted messages.