The European Union is one of the most attractive places around the world, especially for those who their countries are suffering from political, social, economic problems or under conflicts and wars. In the last decades, refugees and asylum seekers’ problem has become an issue, which required cooperation between EU states, especially when it concerns a new dimension of the problem, the unaccompanied children to Europe. Facing this phenomenon is still a challenge and needs a lot of development and implementation stages during next years.
The Dilemma in the Migration of Unaccompanied Minors to Europe
The migration of children as an unusual phenomenon has become one of the most troubling files with international issues and concerns. In recent decades, due to the rapid changes in migration patterns, it has been included with a considerable importance within various academic studies and international forums on migration. It has also drawn the attention of many governmental institutions and civil society associations, and has become the focus of many bilateral and collective agreements between different countries. There is no formal or informal meeting, which does not consider the subject as one of the priorities of its agenda that will underscore the importance of the migration of minors in formulating future refugees’ policies and building bilateral diplomatic relations.
Every year, an unknown number of unaccompanied migrant children enter Europe or other parts of the world. In many cases, these children are trafficked, lured to commit acts of terrorism or sexually exploited, and most of them travel without legal documents. Children sometimes leave their countries on their own free will, or by the direction of their parents to protect them from persecution, wars, or the severe economic conditions, they experience in their countries of origin. It is shocking to know that homeless children represent the largest refugee and displaced population around the world, particularly the painful images of children from Arab countries forced by war and violence to migrate through the sea and seek refuge in unknown destinations, which might end in their death. According to UNICEF; “28 million children have been driven from their homes by violence and conflict within and across borders, including 10 million child refugees; 1 million asylum-seekers whose refugee status has not yet been determined; and an estimated 17 million children displaced within their own countries – children in dire need of humanitarian assistance and access to critical services.” (UNICEF, 7 September 2016)
Therefore, we must take into account something crucial, namely, is the rehabilitation programs of refugee children in the hosting and resettlement states of Europe and finding ways to reunite them with their families. The opportunities of family reunification should be a key factor in the decision on the possibility of child resettlement. Also, European countries must take concrete steps to ensure that resettlement is not a potential limiting factor for future family reunification. For example, it is imperative to shorten waiting periods and give priority to expediting the processing of children’s requests to mitigate the adverse effects of prolonged family separation on the psychological and social development of children. Attention should also be given to promoting integration initiatives, particularly those that work to bring refugee children and their families together with new community members and networks; the provision of support to children and their families alike and the inclusion of children in schools, taking care of each child individually with continuous educational and social counseling within the new society.
Resettlement programs has become a vital part of the efforts of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in seeking efficient solutions and pushing for a more equitable sharing of responsibility of refugees between UNHCR and the international community. Within this focus, resettlement operations should be enhanced to better meet the necessary protection and needs of refugees children and adolescents. Investment in social promotion and welfare services for children in countries of first asylum and resettlement should increase, as this will assist refugee children in finding stable life and long-term solutions for them and their families. Handling requests of unaccompanied minors in Europe should be in general working with the best interest of the child and their separated families as enshrined in international human rights legislations and the Convention of the Rights of Child (OHCHR, 20 November 1989). Unaccompanied minors who arrive at the borders of Member States of the European Union, should be able to apply for international protection and have the right of representation. Children should be granted the possibility to remain in the hosting state until they receive a final decision on their status.
Hosting countries are facing a number of challenging situations as several factors arise from the increasing influx of minors, such as lack of comparable data between reception states and authorities in countries of origin, assessment of children’ age, disappearance from reception facilities, and of course tracing the families of those minors in their country of origin. Also, migration authorities are obliged to focus on differentiating between children who are asylum seekers in search of protection and those who cross the borders illegally in search for work. UNHCR, The European Union, and their partners should continue to identify innovative approaches to protect children from exploitation and abuse as they transition from displacement to places of resettlement which will have a sustainable impact on their lives. It is important to support the strengthening of national child protection systems to benefit all children without exception; no less important is the continued cooperation among States to ensure respect for existing principles and several frameworks governing protection and assistance to children (EU, 26 June 2014).
Hadeel Mohammed Al Farra, is a PhD candidate and writer with interest on Refugees, International and Cross-Cultural Negotiations majoring on the Middle East Region.