Children of Desperation

In the last two years, a rising number of unaccompanied and separated children asylum seekers have braved the risky passage to the European Union (EU) for the chance of settling into a new life.

European Commission statistics indicate that unaccompanied minors make up 12,200 of the overall 62,400 asylum applications in 2009. Responding to the request of the Commission, the Warsaw-based agency conducted a tailored risk analysis on the phenomenon of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the EU.

The bulk of these unaccompanied minors are displaced from Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, Nigeria, and Eritrea. The report adds that while the trend of inflow vary among different groups, the number of unaccompanied Afghan and Somali minors is escalating, along with the unaccompanied children from Guinea.

Because of the heightening migration inflow, EU struck a multi-million euro readmission agreement with Ukraine in January 2010, stipulating the redirection of refugees to Ukraine. However, this resort has since then been questioned.

To assess the readmission scheme, Human Rights Watch (HRW) drew testimonies from refugees in Ukraine, Hungary, and Slovakia, and published ‘Buffeted in the Borderland: The Treatment of Asylum Seekers and Migrants in Ukraine’, documenting the inhuman treatment of refugees including unaccompanied children.

The plight of unaccompanied minors is plagued by innumerable threats including sexual violence, prostitution, forced labour in criminal activities, and enslavement. Prematurely exposed to violence, many of these children survive in the streets by begging and stealing throughout their passage.

Upon reaching their destination, unaccompanied minors run the risk of becoming easy targets of human trafficking, with 60 percent ending up missing from social care centres, as estimated by the British government. Children in detention centres crowd with potentially dangerous adults. Thus, many are forced, some by the migration officials themselves, to declare themselves as adults to prevent detention. They end up living with other migrating nationals in impoverished conditions while performing domestic labour or other odd jobs for daily expenses.

Hoping for better assistance, some minors turn to other EU member states, only to be returned to Ukraine along with other adults, regardless of their reported experience of maltreatment.

Although the readmission agreement also stipulated the improvement of Ukraine’s migration system, unaccompanied minors endure a delayed justice and problematic system.

Barely recovering from the arduous journey, these children struggle further with obscure chances of asylum protection because migration authorities only acknowledge asylum claims lodged with legal representatives. Some migration units refuse to provide any representation, while others contest underage claims without proper age assessment. HRW notes that only one unaccompanied minor has been given asylum status in the duration covered by the report.

HRW has forwarded recommendations to the EU and its member states, and to the government of Ukraine, stressing the need to amend policies and mechanisms for the rightful protection of unaccompanied children in flight.

“We call upon states to remember that first and foremost, these are children and regardless of policies on migration…We ask states to first uphold their rights as children.”

Amid migration crisis, stronger efforts of international solidarity must be geared to protect unaccompanied children as they seek for home.

Toni Bacala

14 January 2011

Media Global

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