Members' Research Service By / December 17, 2014

Undocumented migrant children in the EU

Written by Marc Lilienkamp In its 2006 communication COM (2006) 0367, “Towards an EU strategy on the rights of the…

© ambrozinio / Fotolia
Written by Marc Lilienkamp

In its 2006 communication COM (2006) 0367, “Towards an EU strategy on the rights of the child”, relating to the rights of children “as immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees” , the Commission voiced its commitment to closing the gap between national or community migration laws and the children’s rights that the EU is committed to defending.

However the European reality is that undocumented migrants’ access to education, healthcare and housing is often restricted. The unwanted effects of migration laws are especially felt by undocumented migrant children who find themselves in a vulnerable situation rather than being protected by national, EU and international legislation.

This Keysource puts together legislative and practical experience in the European Union with reference to undocumented migrant children, including recommendations on how to improve the coherence between migration policies and moral issues.


Undocumented migrant children in the EU
© ambrozinio / Fotolia

Children first and foremost: a guide to realising the rights of children and families in an irregular migration situation / Platform for international cooperation on undocumented migrants (PICUM); 2013; p.123

This guide provides an overview over undocumented migrant children’s “triple vulnerability”, as defined by the Council of Europe: ‘as migrants, as persons in an irregular situation and as children’. The paper explains the legal framework, provides definitions of terms and suggests strategies for improving the lives of undocumented migrant children.

Protecting migrants under the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter / Yannis Ktistakis; Council of Europe; 2013; p.137

This handbook explains the existing types of migrants, their rights according to their status and the way they are exercised in harmony with or in discord with the migration policy in practice.

Fundamental rights of migrants in an irregular situation in the European Union / European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights; 2011; p.105

This report scrutinises the problematic case of undocumented migrant children from the EU members states’ perspective. The paper assesses the conflict between the need for migration control and for defending human rights, and offers suggestions on how MS could harmonise morality with law.

General Analyses

Undocumented children in Europe: invisible victims of immigration restrictions / Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrant (PICUM); 2008; p.111

This paper delivers a thorough overview of the problems that undocumented migrant children have in exercising their rights to education, healthcare and housing. The paper considers international, European and national legislations.

Human rights of undocumented adolescents and youth / Global Migration Group, UNICEF and OHCHR; 2013; p.53

This paper discusses the human rights of undocumented migrants focusing on two age groups: adolescents (ages 10 – 18) and youth (19 – 35). After sketching the overall context of irregular migration, the paper focuses on the rights of 10-18 year old children in reference to the international human rights framework and their access to civil, economic and social rights. The authors advocate an age-sensitive approach in policies towards undocumented migrants.

Why human rights fail to protect undocumented migrants / Gregor Noll; European Journal of Migration and Law 12(2010); p.241-272

This author analyses European states’ mechanisms for protecting the rights of undocumented migrant children.

EU framework of law for children’s rights / Canetta, Emanuela et al., European Parliament; Policy Department C; 2012; p.45

Puts forward recommendations for a more effective EU role in defending the rights of children in migration, and critically assesses the functioning of International and Community instruments before and after the Lisbon Treaty.

Analyses regarding Health and Education

Health care for undocumented migrants: European approaches / Issues of International Health Policy; The Commonwealth Fund; 2012

How flexible are European healthcare systems when it comes to undocumented migrants? With children and pregnant women in focus, this paper discusses the types of hospital services offered to undocumented migrants and related funding policies.

Access to health care for undocumented migrants from a human rights perspective: a comparative study of Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands / Dan Biswas, Brigit Toebes, Anders Hjern, Henry Ascher, Marie Norredam; Health & Human Rights: An International Journal; Dec2012, Vol. 14 Issue 2, p49-60, 12p, 2 Charts.

In this comparative analysis of healthcare systems in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands as to their accessibility for undocumented migrants, national laws and policies are examined alongside those of the UN and CoE.

Study on educational support for newly arrived migrant children / carried out by Public Policy and Management Institute for the European Commission; 2013; p.127

This European Commission report offers a comparison between 5 types of education support systems for migrant children in Europe. The report covers Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, France, Luxembourg.

Guaranteeing access to health care for undocumented migrants in Europe: what role can local and regional authorities play? / Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM); 2013 ; 45p.

This paper gathers institutional, local and regional perspectives in guaranteeing the fundamental rights of undocumented migrants. It identifies the policy gaps on each of these levels regarding a loosening of restrictions to migrants’ access to healthcare.

Country Reports

Growing up in a hostile environment: the rights of undocumented migrant children in the UK / Children’s Legal Centre (CLC); 2013; p.59

This paper reports on the situation that undocumented migrant children face in the UK, on how their nonexistent migrant status leads to their disenrollment in the education and healthcare systems. The authors highlight the UK government’s obligation to protect children’s rights while undertaking measures to solve the problems of irregular migration.

Series of country briefs on “Building strategies to improve the protection of children in an irregular migration situation in Europe” / PICUM and RED ACOGE; 2011-2012

These briefings discuss Spanish (2012), Italian (2012), French (2012), Belgian (2012), Dutch (2012); Polish (2011); British (2011) laws and policies relating to the rights of undocumented migrant children on paper and in practice.

World Report 2013 / European Union / EU migration and asylum policy / Human Rights Watch, 2013

Human Rights Watch reports on migrant children’s rights concerns in France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom.

Quel droit à l’enseignement pour les enfants en séjour précaire? Une analyse de la situation des enfants sans titre de séjour légal ou avec un titre de séjour précaire dans l’enseignement fondamental en Belgique / UCARE – Undocumented children and the right to education / Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies (CeMis); 2010; p.300

The paper examines the presence of undocumented migrant children in primary schools in Belgium and identifies the obstacles faced by these children in exercising their right to education.

Policies on healthcare for undocumented migrants in EU27 / Nowhereland; 2010

A series of country reports on healthcare policies and practices regarding undocumented migrants at regional and local level covering 27 EU member states (2010)

Separated, asylum-seeking children in European Union Member States / European Agency for Fundamental Rights, December 2010

This report examines the experiences and views of separated, asylum-seeking children and those of adults responsible for their care across 12 EU member states.

Stakeholder Views

European Parliament

European Parliament resolution, 14 March 2013 on the integration of migrants, its effects on the labour market and the external dimension of social security coordination / P7_TA(2013)0092

Motion for resolution of the European Parliament calls for a common legal EU framework for protecting migrants, also mentioning those most vulnerable – children.

European Agency for Fundamental Rights

Handbook: Guardianship for children deprived of parental care ; European Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014

A handbook to reinforce guardianship systems to cater for the specific needs of child victims of trafficking.

United Nations

General comment No. 2 on the rights of migrant workers in an irregular situation and members of their families / United Nations; Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; 28 August 2013

The Committee advocates the defence of core human rights principles in the International convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The committee condemns the usage of the term “illegal migration”, the criminalisation of irregular migration, detention (if not as a last resort) of undocumented migrants and especially children migrants. The committee concludes that the convention does not provide for a substantial level of protection of undocumented migrants.

Council of Europe

Undocumented migrant children in an irregular situation: a real cause for concern / Council of Europe; Parliamentary Assembly; 2011

This report from the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population is concerned about the inconsistency in the European approach to the undocumented migrant children. As policies vary from one European country to another, the Committee of Ministers seeks to improve legislation and practice on national levels.

NGOs and Think tanks

Joint submission to the DG Home Consultation on children’s rights in the post-Stockholm strategic guidelines / Save the Children, Eurochild, World Vision, PICUM, IFM-SEI and Terre des Hommes; 2014

This paper calls for an integrated approach to child protection, ending the detention of children and developing alternatives both for unaccompanied children and families, mainstreaming children’s rights through better coordination between all DGs and making them a political priority of the external dimension of EU migration and asylum policy.

Why a rights-based approach to migrant children? The case of undocumented children and families/ Lilana Keith, PICUM; 20 November 2014

The author claims that the current approach to migrant children is piecemeal, focusing on protecting certain categories of children and that many children are falling through the gaps and facing serious rights violations. She therefore calls for a rights-based approach that protects all migrant children, including undocumented children and families.

Submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the implications for access to justice of certain government proposals to reform legal aid / Refugee Children’s Consortium; 2013

A submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights from the non-governmental organization, “The Refugee Children’s Consortium” (RCC). Along with the and judicial true-life review of the current problems that undocumented migrant children are facing today, RCC is also offering its own conclusions and recommendations

“Children on the move: Children first” / European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC); Adopted at the 17th ENOC Annual General Assembly held on 27 September 2013 in Brussels

ENOC position statement on “children on the move” calls on EU states and institutions to warrant the compliance of their national and European legislation respectively, with the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child.

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  • […] Granting asylum means that a state offers international protection on its territory to those qualifying as ‘refugees’ under the Geneva Convention criteria. Moreover, in the EU the Qualification Directive extends this protection to persons who do not qualify as refugees; where there are substantial grounds to believe that their life or freedom would be in serious risk if returned to their country of origin. For more information on the legal framework of asylum, refer to our briefing EU legal framework on asylum and irregular immigration ‘on arrival’. Our briefing on Asylum in the EU: Facts and Figures gives a graphical overview of the number of asylum applications lodged and granted in EU Member States. Among those seeking protection in the EU, are an increasing number of unaccompanied children separated from their families. Analytical sources and stakeholder views on the situation are provided in our keysource ‘Undocumented migrant children in the EU‘. […]

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