Missing Children Europe in collaboration with the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society set out to discuss the current state of affairs surrounding unaccompanied refugee and migrant children. Apart from panel discussions, the conference included a variety of workshops split between the two days where delegates were given the opportunity to discuss and come up with proactive proposals that safeguard the rights of unaccompanied child migrants and refugees. Below are a few discussions the Mel McElhatton, Sarah Bouhlel and Damian Cuschieri found interesting during the conference.
When is ‘return’ to the country of origin in the best interest of the child?
by Sarah Bouhlel
This workshop focused on the effects of the return on the child’s wellbeing and if deportation really is for the child’s best interest.
Migrant families live long years in fear and uncertainty of deportation. They fear contact with the police to the extent of not reporting cases of abuse and violence. The reason behind this is that once they have contact with the police, the latter will know about their uncertain position in the country and therefore they will start deportation procedures. Authorities inform families of their deportation so some families have their suitcases prepared for months if not years. These families live every day in fear and uncertainty of going back. While other families do not believe the claim of the authorities and get deported without much mental and physical preparation.
Some countries deport one member of a family at a time to pressure the rest into going back ‘voluntarily’. In countries like Germany, parents get deported and children get to stay with ‘Legal guardians’. The voice of the child in these kind of situations is never heard or taken into consideration. These authorities use the phrase ‘best interest of the child’ as a justification for these kind of actions, however this is only lip service. The child’s best interest is served when he/she is with the family.
The child feels a lot of anxiety and fear due to the undetermined position they hold in the host country and the possibility of being sent back. However deportation can be even be more harmful. In fact, 1 in 5 children suffer from PTSD when they return to their home country according to a UNICEF research.
Identify holistic solutions and to enhance local cooperation in the best interest of the child
by Mel McElhatton
This workshop was led by Stockhold Stadsmission, a Swedish non-profit which focusses on social care, healthcare, education, and labour integration. One of its projects is Project BABA, which was initiated in April 2016. The aim of Project BABA was to contact unaccompanied children and youth, in particular those who do not receive other forms of support. Through this initiative, Stockhold Stadsmission wanted to increase its knowledge of the experience of these unaccompanied minors.
To understand the best interests of the child we need expertise & guidance of the children themselves.
This was the principle behind project BABA, and the benefits of such a method was experienced by participants themselves, when two short comments were shared by participants of BABA – one of whom admitted to having tried to commit suicide as they see no way out of their situation, and another who agreed to work for €2 per hour because ultimately, it was still money.
And at the end of the day, how can the voices of youth be heard? One cannot expect them to just speak, but writing down their stories, and then receiving feedback from others about these stories.
Establishing mechanisms for transnational child protection
by Damian Cuschieri
Split into two parts, the workshop started out with the presentation of identified gaps from three organisations namely Save the Children, World’s Vision and NSPCC, and how they are dealing with them. Following this, delegates were split into three groups and given a chance to discuss what, in their opinion, is the best practice to follow.
London-based organisation Save the Children discussed cross-border child protection and its lack thereof in many places. The spokesperson, expressed that there can essentially be no comparison between South Africa and Europe. In South Africa children are sent back and forth at the border, and this is partly due to the lack of effective communication between the parties involved. Following, the spokesperson set out to give examples on how to set up a cross-boarder management system, underlining first and foremost the need for a European Action Plan for children who are on the move. She then mentioned other examples including the need to ensure the skills to properly identify these children and introduce them to key actors, the need to understand the country’s system and who exactly are the people to contact, the importance of guardianship and also listening to the child as a central element.
An interesting case study was then presented by World’s Vision who, together with Save the Children, worked at the trafficking border in Croatia. Following, NSPCC (a large UK charity for children) discussed their main roles including: advising entities like police to ensure that children are getting the appropriate response. The spokesperson stressed that the discussion is surrounding the child protection issue. She also discussed how the largest amount of referrals is for sex exploitations (although this may be due to the recent raise of awareness, not reflective of actual exploitation).
Missing unaccompanied children and links with trafficking – Legal obligations on protection and areas of improvement
by Sarah Bouhlel
The workshop focused on the legal aspect of trafficked and missing young migrants. Trafficked children are forced into criminality like theft, pick pocketing, forced begging and immigration offences by their traffickers. They are also forced to work in domestic houses adapted for the purpose of drug production as well as transportation and supply of drugs. So when these children come in contact with the authorities, they are taken into detention centers.
The problem in these situations is the difficulty for lawyers to prove to judges that these children were forced to do what they have done. And that they are actually being trafficked and exploited. After serving their sentence, these children get picked up by traffickers from detention centers or foster families and get re-trafficked again.
There are various ways on how we can protect these children from trafficking and going missing. The most important thing to be done to save them is to identify trafficking cases quickly. To do so, the EU needs to have effective legislations and common administrative frameworks, to help recognize these cases. The children also need to get assessed as soon as they arrive to the country for the authorities to be aware of their needs and collect relevant data on them so that it won’t be so difficult to find them when they go missing. Finally, EU countries need to share information on trafficking patterns in different countries across Europe to stop children from becoming victims of trafficking.
Guardianship – separated children in europe programme
by Mel McElhatton
Greece was the focal point of this workshop. Greek activists have been advocating to protect children and pressure the government to let these children be out of detention. However, the Greek government claims that keeping these children in detention is actually for their own protection.
According to the speakers, there is a legal basis for guardianship. This can be found within Article 10 of the Council of Europe which states that if a child is the victim of trafficking, a guardian should be appointed to protect the child. Further, the state should act to prevent children from being trafficked, but the only way to do this is if member states share information between themselves.
Durable solutions for children on the move
by Damian Cuschieri
In this workshop, led by Destination Unknown Campaign, the discussion revolved around the concept of finding a durable solution. Finding a durable solution is something we mention a lot, without really knowing what it is or how to do it. It’s all about going beyond protection, and looking at long term solutions for the children. A durable solution aims to establish a continuity of care in a safe and nurturing environment as well as the development of stable social relationships that allow the child to develop prospects for the future. Of course this is just a general definition and the process is quite a long and complex one, often involving more than one country and transnational collaboration of the relevant actors.
There are many challenges to be considered, such as the lack of incentives, the problem of the states having to share responsibility for the child and the harmonization of standards, among others.
Part of this workshop was dedicated to the story of Farah Abdullahi Abdi.
Destination Unkown Campagin has been ongoing since 2012 and is spread over 10 regions, 65 countries, 100 members and has participated in around 60 projects. They have three domains of intervention, these being: - Support to service deliver, - Learning and Knowledge Management, - and Advocacy.
Creating a culture of trust: Separated and trafficked children missing from care in the UK
by Sarah Bouhlel
This workshop discussed ways on how to response to risks of the child going missing, guardianship in the UK and its challenges and how to creating durable solutions.
Children go missing because they fail to build a relationship of trust with their guardian, they suffer from social isolation and debt bondage (sometimes these young people feel pressured to return to their traffickers to ‘pay their debt’). These children need to have guardians and safe accommodation so that their traffickers will not find them, and a long and secure attachment. The guardian needs to seek professionals that look out for indicators of re-trafficking to prevent the child from going missing.
The long delays on receiving decision from asylum application makes it difficult to create durable solutions. There is also no consistency with the people who these children are working with, which creates trust issues and feelings of helplessness. These children want a person who can stay with them, look out for their best interest and show them all the options they have so they can decide on what to do.
Usually young people between the age of 15 and 25 decode their future, but these children don’t even know if they are staying in the country they are in. They can get deported to their country, where there might be war, or experience abuse and violence and have no family. However, these children are always thriving and want an education, they’ve been through a lot of negative situations but they’ve made a lot of positive decisions.
Melissa McElhatton who has recently graduated with a BA (hons) in Social Work started out with Insite as a writer, then as CEO, and following as Social Policy Associate. She is also currently President of Gender Equality Malta (GEM).