Members' Research Service By / January 20, 2016

Unaccompanied migrant children in the EU

Written by Anna Dimitrova-Stull, Irene Penas Dendariena and Ulla Jurviste, In the context of migration to the European Union (EU),…

©Lydia Geissler / Fotolia

Written by Anna Dimitrova-Stull, Irene Penas Dendariena and Ulla Jurviste,

Unaccompanied migrant children in the EU
©Lydia Geissler / Fotolia

In the context of migration to the European Union (EU), an unaccompanied minor, as defined by Directive 2011/95/UE , refers to a minor who arrives on the territory of an EU Member State unaccompanied by an adult responsible or who is left unaccompanied after he or she has entered the territory of the Member States.

According to the data available, this problem is getting bigger. Whilst the reasons why these unaccompanied minors arrive in Europe are diverse, they remain one of the most vulnerable groups in the migration process. Indeed, not only are they migrants but they are also children.

On 6 May 2015, the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) adopted the report on the proposal for a regulation amending Regulation (EU) No 604/2013 as regards determining the Member State responsible for examining the application for international protection of unaccompanied minors (rapporteur: Cecilia Wikström, ALDE, Sweden).

This Keysource brings together a selection of information materials describing the situation of unaccompanied children within the EU.


Migration of children to Europe / International Organization for Migration (IOM), data brief, 30 November 2015.
“While record numbers of refugee and migrant children have arrived in Europe in 2015, it is very difficult to get accurate numbers for unaccompanied and separated children, as formal registration procedures in some countries in Europe do not allow for their identification”.

Europe refugee emergency: unaccompanied and separated children / United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), briefing note, 9 October 2015, 4 p.
This is a short summary of the existing information with figures from the relevant government authorities as reported by UNHCR offices.

Migrant situation in the EU takes heavy toll on children / EU Agency of Fundamental Rights (FRA), press release, 18 September 2015.
Children arriving unaccompanied in the EU are in urgent need of protection, says FRA.

UNICEF urges European leaders to quickly turn new commitments for refugees and migrants into action for children / United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), press release, 11 September 2015.
“All children, especially those who are unaccompanied or separated from their families, are vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse, in transit and upon arrival in destination countries”.

Mineurs non accompagnés dans l’UE: état des lieux / Anna Dimitrova-Stull, briefing, European Parliament Research Service, July 2015, 9 p.
An overview of the issue of unaccompanied minors in the Europe. It also describes the relevant EU law, policy and funding as well as the position of the European Parliament.

La protection des mineurs migrants non accompagnés en Europe / Nisrine Eba Nguema, La revue des droits de l’homme, mai 2015.
The author points out that the phenomenon of unaccompanied minors requires a special legal framework because their young age and lack of experience expose them to human rights violations.


Policies, practices and data on unaccompanied minors in the EU Member States and Norway: Synthesis Report /European Migration Network (EMN), May 2015, 48 p. See also: Annexes to the Synthesis Report and national reports .
This study identifies a number of gaps and challenges that still need to be addressed to ensure all unaccompanied minors benefit from the same level of protection. It also highlights a number of good practices which have been adopted by some EU Member States.

The rise and fall of the ERPUM pilot: Tracing the European policy drive to deport unaccompanied minors / Dr Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, Refugee Studies Centre, Working papers series No. 108, March 2015, 43 p.
This paper traces the institutional dynamics surrounding the European Return Platform for Unaccompanied Minors (ERPUM), the first ever EU pilot attempting to organize the administrative deportation of unaccompanied minors.

Reception and living in families: Overview of family-based reception for unaccompanied minors in the EU Member States / Nidos, SALAR, CHBT, February 2015, 134 p.
This report underlines that only a small proportion of unaccompanied children in the EU live in family care. The majority are placed in institutions. Nonetheless, practices exist to make use of reception provisions within families. Until now, the knowledge of these practices in different countries has been incidental and fragmented.

Guardianship for children deprived of parental care in the EU: A handbook to reinforce guardianship systems to cater for the specific needs of child victims of trafficking / FRA, 2014, 115 p.
This comparative report looks at how existing systems respond to the particular needs and vulnerabilities of presumed or identified child victims, or children at risk of trafficking and exploitation, such as unaccompanied children.

Identification, reception and protection of unaccompanied children / CONNECT Project Report, 2014, 104 p.
Through country mappings (in Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK) this document identifies practices that could directly inspire improvements across the EU. They also highlight common challenges to which common EU resources might be brought to bear, for example, through further regional research, trans-European projects, interpretative guidance or common training.

Stakeholder views

EU Institutions

European Commission

A European Agenda on Migration / COM (2015) 240 final, 13 May 2015.
This document points out that in order to look at the specific vulnerabilities of children, the Commission will develop a comprehensive strategy to follow up on the Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors (2011-2014).

Mid-term report on the implementation of the Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors / COM (2012) 554 final, 28 September 2012.
This report emphasises that EU and its Member States need to strengthen the efforts they are making to collaborate with non-EU countries of origin, transit and destination in advancing a common EU approach to unaccompanied children. The situation of these children should continue to be addressed in the context of the external migration policy.

Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors (2010 – 2014) / COM (2010) 213 final, 6 May 2010.
The Action Plan was set up in order to provide concrete responses to the challenges posed by the arrival of significant numbers of unaccompanied minors in EU territory, while fully respecting the rights of the child and the principle of the best interest of the child.

European Parliament

European Parliament resolution on the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child / 27 November 2014.
The Parliament draws attention to the fact that many unaccompanied children disappear and abscond after their first arrival in the EU and are particularly vulnerable to abuse. It calls on the Member States to take action to end the detention of migrant children across the EU.

European Parliament resolution of 12 September 2013 on the situation of unaccompanied minors in the EU / 12 September 2013.
The Parliament stresses that an unaccompanied minor is above all a child who is potentially in danger and that child protection must be the leading principle for Member States and the EU. It calls on the Commission to draw up strategic guidelines for Member States which should address each stage in the process, from the arrival of a minor in European territory until a durable solution has been found.

Council of the EU

Council conclusions on unaccompanied minors , 3 June 2010.
In this document the Council draws attention to the importance of finding durable solutions based on an individual assessment of the best interests of the child consisting of return and reintegration in the country of origin or return, granting international protection status or granting another status according to national law of the Member States concerned.

International organisations

Children’s rights in return policy and practice in Europe / UNICEF, January 2015, 56 p.
UNICEF expresses concern that efforts to scale up returns of unaccompanied children may lead to protection gaps for these children. According to the authors of this paper relevant policy approaches remain fragmented and do not address all relevant aspects of the return.

Unaccompanied and separated asylum-seeking and refugee children turning eighteen: What to celebrate? / Council of Europe, UNHCR, March 2014, 78 p.
According to this study, unaccompanied children in transition to adulthood have their own needs as a specific age category, and should be given proper support in order to facilitate that phase in order to achieve greater autonomy and integration in the host society.

Children on the move / IOM, 2013, 108 p.
This paper addresses (pp. 45-61) the issue of legal guardianship in the context of return of unaccompanied migrant children and concludes with a number of recommendations to overcome the existing challenges.

Life Projects for unaccompanied minors / L. Drammeh, Council of Europe, October 2010, 69 p.
This handbook provides practical training and advice for front-line professionals involved in the design, implementation and review of Life Projects, as defined in Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec (2007)9 .

General Comment N°6: Treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin / UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 2005.
The CRC underlines that the enjoyment of rights stipulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is not limited to children who are citizens of a State party. This document stipulates legal obligations of States parties for all unaccompanied children in their territory.

NGO views

Thousands of Vulnerable Unaccompanied Children Arriving on Mediterranean Rescue Boats / Save the Children, June 2015.
“Unaccompanied children are at the greatest risk from people traffickers. Some are being forced into manual labour, domestic work, drug smuggling and prostitution.”

EU: Abuses against children fuel migration / Human Rights Watch, June 2015.
“The Greek government should ensure sufficient capacity in shelters for unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children to minimize as much as possible detention pending transfer to shelters. The EU should provide financial assistance to the Greek government to achieve these goals.”

Migrant Children: shipwrecked, rescued or disappearing?  / Terre des Hommes, April 2015.
“According to Italian Government official data, as of the end of March 2015, over 12,600 unaccompanied minors were residing in Italy – more than 3,500 of them being untraceable after having escaped from social services facilities, confirming the worrying phenomenon of children disappearing.”

Multi-sector needs assessment of migrants and refugees in Greece / Save the Children, 2015, 25 p.
“The protection of unaccompanied minors is a major concern as children are placed in large groups in (locked) detention/reception centres in cramped cells, then transferred to care centres on the mainland, which they usually leave to continue their north-bound journey, exposing themselves to further risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking.”

Position statement on ‘Children on the Move’ / European Network for Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC), 27 September 2013, 5 p.
“Unaccompanied and separated children should never be refused entry to a country in accordance with the non-refoulement obligations deriving from international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law.”

Case law

Judgment of the Court (Fourth Chamber) of 6 June 2013 (Member State responsible for examining the application of unaccompanied minors) / Court of Justice of the EU.
Where an unaccompanied minor with no member of his family legally present in the territory of a Member State has lodged asylum applications in more than one Member State, the Member State in which that minor is present after having lodged an asylum application there is to be designated the ‘Member State responsible’.

Case-law of the European Court of Human Rights on the detention of unaccompanied and separated children.


Asylum applicants considered to be unaccompanied minors – annual data / Eurostat.

Asylum applicants considered to be unaccompanied minors by citizenship, age and sex – annual data / Eurostat.

Number of recognised unaccompanied minors not applying for asylum / EMN (data for 2013).

Statistics on results of application for international protection by UAMs in the (Member) States (2009-2013) / EMN.

EU programmes and projects

Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) 2014 – 2020.

Pilot Project on Unaccompanied minors in the EU.

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