The number of children in migration arriving in the European Union has increased over the last two years, many of these migrant and refugee children are arriving unaccompanied. According to the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos “One in three asylum seekers in Europe is a child”. Due to this increase in arrivals, there is a great strain on systems already in place  where resources are already under stress  to ensure the safety of migrants and refugees.

During a recent press release, the European Commission has emphasised the importance of ensuring that children are promptly identified upon arrival in the EU. Trained professionals are to be available to the children, especially during their status determination and will assist with long term access to health care and education opportunities. ‘Child protection is a central priority in the European Agenda on Migration and the Commission will continue to support Member States’ efforts through training, guidance, operational support and funding.’

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans mentioned that “Children should be our top priority as they are the most vulnerable, especially when they have nobody to guide them. That is why today we are setting out a number of concrete actions to better protect, support and take care of the best interests of all children who are arriving in the European Union.”

The European Commission proposed several priority areas for Member states to focus on that have been supported by European Union agencies. These priority areas include; swift identification and protection upon arrival, adequate reception conditions for children, swift determination and effective guardianship, durable solutions and early integration measures, identifying root causes and protecting children along migrant routes outside of the European Union.

The European Commission will closely follow these key actions and report regularly to the Council yet the European Parliament needs action to be taken at EU level as well as  national, regional and local levels.

The Secretary General on Migration and Refugees (SRSG), initiated talks with the Council of Europe (COE) in March 2016 regarding the action plan on refugee and migrant children with a view on adoption in early 2017. Resulting from the talks, four research projects were carried out in 2016, identifying and investigating challenges posed to migrant and refugee children.

On March 22nd of this year, a new report highlighting the key challenges faced by migrant children in Europe was released. Titled ‘Thematic Report on Migrant and Refugee Children‘ was created by the Special Representative of the SRSG, Tomáš Boček.

Based on the research, the key priority areas as recommended by the SRSG are;

  • Better Identification and age assessment practices,
  • Improved Registration and guardianship allowance,
  • Improved reception conditions with the prevention and effective response to missing children,
  • Adequate reception conditions including preventing and responding effectively to disappearances,
  • Increased use of Alternatives to detention for families and suitable alternative care arrangements for unaccompanied and separated children
  • Improved access to information, legal aid including child-friendly services, Increased prevention and response to violence, exploitation and trafficking,
  • Increased access to education with a strong focus on integration, access to health services,
  • Focus on family reunification, Reducing statelessness with a goal of total prevention,
  • Appropriate transition to adulthood as many children who turn 18 are sent to adult facilities with limited assistance, which can often lead to homelessness and creating long term solutions and structure to benefit those seeking asylum or the right to migrate should also be key priority areas.

The International Detention Coalition has welcomed law changes such as the new Zampa law in Italy, which guarantees the rights of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy, giving them the same rights as Italian children. Alternatives to detention are possible and consider the best interests of the child as detention has proven to be harming both physically and mentally to vulnerable people, especially children.