Written by Joanna Apap and Anita Orav.
An unprecedented mass movement to the EU of asylum-seekers and migrants of all ages began in 2014, reached a peak in 2015, and subsequently continued into 2016 and 2017. On 5 April 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on addressing refugee and migrant movements: the role of EU external action, which calls for a coordinated and effective protection response, which has both a gender and a child-sensitive dimension.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) estimates that in 2015, there were globally no fewer than 100 000 unaccompanied migrant and refugee children. Europol has stated that at least 10 000 unaccompanied child refugees have gone missing following their arrival in Europe. There are various reasons why a child may be unaccompanied or separated, including persecution of the child or the parents; international conflict and civil war; human trafficking and smuggling, including sale by parents; accidental separation from the parents over the course of their journey; and pursuit of better economic opportunities.
The mixed migratory flows include a large number of refugees, as evidenced by the previously unseen numbers of asylum applications. According to Eurostat, the number of asylum applications in the EU reached 1.3 and 1.2 million in 2015 and 2016 respectively. More than half of the applicants came from war-torn regions – Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Around 30 % of them in 2015-2016 were children, an alarming number of whom were travelling alone. Children are particularly vulnerable to physical and psychological violence in migration detention, which is why human rights organisations argue that children should not be detained at all. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has identified a number of protection gaps in the treatment of these children, including that unaccompanied and separated children face greater risks of, inter alia, sexual exploitation and abuse, military recruitment, child labour (including for foster families), and detention.
In the last six months, the Maltese EU Presidency has placed the protection of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children high on its agenda. In the context of an increasing number of migrant children arriving in Europe, and on the basis of reports identifying the ensuing challenges, the European Commission presented a communication on the protection of children in migration on 12 April 2017. The communication states that protecting children means upholding European values in favour of human rights, dignity and solidarity, while enforcing EU and international law on human rights and the rights of the child. A comprehensive child rights-based approach, in full compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is vital to ensure the ‘best interests of the child’ are upheld in Europe.
Read also our at a glance note on:
‘World Refugee Day: Focus on migrant children ‘.
In its motion for a resolution of 15 May 2017 on making relocation happen, the Parliament noted that, out of 28 Member States, only Finland was systematically relocating unaccompanied minors, and called on all Member States to give priority to the relocation of unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable applicants.
For more information read our At a Glance on World Refugee Day: focus on migrant children. European Parliamentary Research Service briefings on the vulnerability of unaccompanied and separated child migrants and arbitrary detention of women and children for immigration-related purposes further explain the plight of women and children in their search for refuge, as well as the legal framework, process and conditions in which they are received.
For an overview of how children in Europe are faring in some of the key areas covered in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and what the European Union is doing to protect their rights, please refer to our At a Glance note on Universal Children’s Day.
Finally, explore this interactive infographic for further information.