This section provides an introductory overview to the EU policy framework that concerns unaccompanied and separated children. This introduction is followed by a compilation of key policy measures.
This section takes as its starting point the policy developments which directly contributed to, and flowed from, The Stockholm Programme — An open and secure Europe serving and protecting citizens (2010-2014) adopted by the European Council to establish the next five year programme in the field of EU justice and home affairs.
In June 2009, the Commission Communication to the European Parliament and the Council entitled ‘An area of freedom, security and justice serving the citizen – Stockholm programme’ COM (2009) 262 final noted that:
“Unaccompanied minors that entered the EU territory illegally staying present another challenge that needs to be studied in depth. This will be followed by an action plan to underpin and supplement the relevant legislative and financial instruments and strengthen forms of cooperation with countries of origin, including cooperation to facilitate minors’ return to their countries of origin”.
In November 2009, the European Parliament responded to the Communication and urged Member states to ensure that the EU asylum, migration and trafficking policies treat migrant children as children first and foremost. It also called for “special attention to be paid to minors, whether accompanied or not, in order to ensure that they are not held in any form of detention”. The Parliament called for the EU to identify “actions which will support Member States in finding a secure, concrete and durable solution for each child in the child’s best interests.
The Stockholm Programme noted that:
“Unaccompanied minors arriving in the Member States from third countries represent a particularly vulnerable group which requires special attention and dedicated responses, especially in the case of minors at risk. This is a challenge for Member States and raises issues of common concern. Areas identified as requiring particular attention are the exchange of information and best practice, minor’s smuggling, cooperation with countries of origin, the question of age assessment, identification and family tracing, and the need to pay particular attention to unaccompanied minors in the context of the fight against trafficking in human beings. A comprehensive response at Union level should combine prevention, protection and assisted return measures while taking into account the best interests of the child.”
It further noted that:
“European Council therefore welcomes the Commission’s initiative to “develop an action plan, to be adopted by the Council, on unaccompanied minors which underpins and supplements the relevant legislative and financial instruments and combines measures directed at prevention, protection and assisted return. The action plan should underline the need for cooperation with countries of origin, including cooperation to facilitate the return of minors, as well as to prevent further departures. The action plan should also examine practical measures to facilitate the return of the high number of unaccompanied minors that do not require international protection, while recognising that the best interests for many may be the reunion with their families and development in their own social and cultural environment.”
Taking into account the European Resolution and the Stockholm Programme, the Commission adopted the ‘Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors (2010-2014)’, further described in Section 3.1 below.
Another important policy framework anticipated in the Stockholm Programme is the EU Strategy for Eradicating Trafficking in Human Beings adopted in 2012 which prioritised the situation of trafficked children and provided for key actions in their regard. This is further described in Section 3.3 below.
Moreover, the Stockholm Programme highlighted the need for the EU to act to secure the rights of the child more generally as follows, and this led to the adoption of the EU Agenda for the rights of the child in 2011, which is further described in Section 3.4 below:
“The rights of the child (...) must be systematically and strategically taken into account with a view to ensuring an integrated approach. The Commission Communication of 2006 entitled “Towards an EU Strategy on the rights of the child” reflect important considerations in this regard. An ambitious Union strategy on the rights of the child should be developed.”
As regards EU practical measures of support in relation to the situation of unaccompanied children, the EU Agencies, in particular, the Fundamental Rights Agency, FRONTEX and the European Asylum Support Office, have been actively engaged in issues concerning unaccompanied and separated children, carrying out studies, producing training tools and guidance of various kinds. These, alongside relevant activities of the European Migration Network, are described in Section 3.5.
As regards external measures, the Action Plan and the report on its implementation discuss EU actions, including political dialogue and development cooperation, focussing on addressing the external dimension of the situation of unaccompanied children arriving in Europe. See further Section 3.6 below.
Unaccompanied and separated children have also been increasingly prominent in EU funding. For illustrations of funding activities, see Section 3.7 below.
In March 2014, in anticipation of the Strategic Guidelines on the future of justice and home affairs by the European Council in June, the Commission published a Communication entitled ‘An open and secure Europe: making it happen’ (COM 2014) 154. Of particular relevance to unaccompanied children it noted that:
“Vulnerable migrants, in particular women, young migrants and unaccompanied minors should receive targeted support and a ‘best interest of the child’ approach should be practically applied in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Building on previous work in the field of integration, successful policies could be identified and best practices disseminated. Further work will be necessary on capacity building and on engaging with local and regional authorities, which are at the forefront of integration policies.”
With respect to trafficking and sexual exploitation, the Communication noted:
“Trafficking in human beings is becoming more and more sophisticated. The implementation of the (EU Anti-Trafficking) strategy must be completed, including aspects relating to human trafficking in third countries. A post-2016 Strategy should be established, covering among others prevention, assistance to victims, safe-return and reintegration, and the role of the internet. The need to criminalise the intentional use of services of human trafficking victims should be examined. To reach those objectives, the position of EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator should be prolonged.
Sexual exploitation and abuse of children cause life-long damage to its victims. The EU Directive targeting on-line exploitation must be transposed and implemented as a matter of priority. The importance of protecting children against sexual crimes should be more mainstreamed into other EU policy areas, and the need for a comprehensive EU strategy examined.”
More generally as regards external affairs, the Communication noted that:
“Home Affairs issues need to be embedded in the EU’s overall external policy, allowing for reinforced dialogue and cooperation with third countries. Consistency and coherence with the external policy will help in anticipating challenges, better reaching the EU’s objectives, promoting its values and fulfilling its international human rights obligations.”
The EU Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors “aims to provide concrete responses to the challenges posed by the arrival of significant numbers of unaccompanied minors in the EU territory, while fully respecting the rights of the child”. It placed “the standards established by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child at the heart of any EU action concerning unaccompanied minors”. The Communication recognises that the EU has a significant role in responding to the situation of these children and aimed at a global and integrated approach across its policies. It addressed the challenges of insufficient data, and then three main strands for action: prevention, regional protection programmes, reception and identification of durable solutions.
Some priorities emphasised in the Action Plan include achieving “higher standards of protection for unaccompanied children” in EU law and evaluating “whether it is necessary to introduce targeted amendments or a specific instrument setting down common standards on reception and assistance for all unaccompanied minors regarding guardianship, legal representation, access to accommodation and care, initial interviews, education, etc”. It also indicates the need for best practice guidelines on issues such as age assessment and family tracing, encourages the introduction of mechanisms to review the quality of guardianship and speaks of funding European networks of guardians. The Plan also aims to ensure the availability of better data on the situation of these children as well as to finance projects for the integration of unaccompanied minors who are granted legal status. The Communication calls for cooperation with third countries to prevent unsafe migration and trafficking, inter alia, through funding projects that provide “alternatives in the country/region of origin that aim to benefit children” and promoting “the development of child protection systems”. It emphasises the need for “enhanced cooperation with expert civil society organizations and international organizations” and considers that the Plan should “be regarded as the starting point in a long-term process”.
After a public debate, the Council adopted conclusions on the subject of unaccompanied minors coming to the EU regardless of whether they are asylum seekers, illegal migrants or victims of trafficking in human beings. The conclusions address particularly the following five issues:
- knowledge of the phenomenon (e.g. improving data collection);
- prevention of unsafe migration and trafficking in human beings (e.g. financing of preventive actions at local level; training for border guards);
- reception and procedural guarantees (e.g. assessing whether the current EU legislation offers unaccompanied minors sufficient protection to guarantee that minors are treated as such; quick decisions in the best interest of the child; exchange of best-practice guidelines; combating the phenomenon of disappearance);
- cooperation with third countries (e.g. relevant agreements; cooperation on prevention, family tracing, return to the family or to reception centres and reintegration in the countries of origin or return);
- return and reintegration in the country of origin (e.g. making a study of existing practices and legislation throughout the EU; practical cooperation between member states, countries of origin as well as international and non-governmental organisations; financing of special reception centres). (IP/10/534).
In September 2012, the Commission reported to the European Parliament and the Council: ‘Mid-term report on the implementation of the Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors’. The Report was accompanied by a Staff Working Document identifying specific developments and activities of the EU institutions and the Member States. Both the mid-term report and the staff accompanying documents are key resources to identify relevant activities in the field.
The Mid-Term Report concluded that:
“The EU Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors and the Council conclusions have been important steps in shaping a common, rights-based EU approach to this group of migrant children. The common EU approach has enabled more effective cross-cutting policy reflections on how to address the situation of children, regardless of their migratory status, and has facilitated discussions among EU institutions, national authorities, inter-governmental and nongovernmental organisations in different policy arenas, allowing enhanced exchange of knowledge and practices concerning unaccompanied minors. The common EU approach ensured that greater prominence was given to funding measures to address the situation of those children. The explicit recognition of the best interests of the child as the guiding principle has contributed to provisions that ensure increasing protection in the new EU legislative instruments for this particularly vulnerable group of migrants…. During the past two years, the Commission has paid particular attention to ensuring better coordination and consistency among the various legislative, financial and policy instruments relating to unaccompanied children. The actions implemented have contributed to the improvement of data collection, the prevention of unsafe migration and trafficking, the protection of children once they are in the EU and the identification of durable solutions.[...]”
The Report also emphasises that a common EU approach is an “on-going and incremental process”. It notes that “The arrival of unaccompanied children on EU territory is not a temporary development, but a long-term feature of migration into the EU. There is and will continue to be a need for a common EU approach to unaccompanied minors in order to continue to respond effectively and in full respect of the rights of the child to this complex and transnational challenge at both national and European level.” It calls for further efforts in terms of sharing knowledge, designing and implementing legislative and non-legislative actions, in particular, for improving methods of finding durable solutions. In it the Commission committed to continue to prioritise funding projects in the field within the EU and to continue to fund initiatives in third countries and regions through its instruments for external assistance on issues relating to unaccompanied minors. The Report encourages other EU institutional actors and international governmental and non-governmental organisations are encouraged to continue to contribute to the implementation of the common EU approach. With regard to third countries, the Report called for stronger efforts by the EU and its Member States to collaborate with non-EU countries of origin, transit and destination in advancing a common EU approach to unaccompanied children, including on issues such as re-establishing family unity, ensuring safe return and preventing unsafe migration with development and cooperation aid.
Before mid-2015 the Commission will report to the Parliament and the Member States on the status of implementation of the Action Plan. Proposals for further actions shall be made based on the outcome of the implementation’s report, and the needs that will be identified.
- In the context of the EU Action Plan, the Commission established an Expert group on unaccompanied minors in the migration process (E02402). http://goo.gl/mFdZsd
The meetings are attended by experts from EU Member States, non-governmental organisations, international organisations, EU institutions and agencies. The EU Expert Group has had two thematic meetings to date (June 2011 on guardianship and March 2012 on family tracing). Insert links to reports from the meetings.
Relevant Presidency Conferences:
- Save the Children Conference under the auspices of the Swedish Presidency, Addressing the Protection Gap for Unaccompanied Children in the European Union: the role of the Stockholm Programme, September 2009 http://goo.gl/FzBwrb
- Recommendations from the Belgian EU Presidency Conference: Unaccompanied children: children crossing the external border in search of protection, December 9/10 2010, http://goo.gl/tm3YXp
- Joint Conference of the Danish Presidency and Save the Children, “Unaccompanied Minors Arriving in Europe, Recent Developments and Practical Tools”, June 2012, See: http://goo.gl/7pq6JB
On September 12, 2013, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the situation of unaccompanied minors in the EU, on the basis of an own-initiative report by Natalie Griesbeck MEP, in which the European Parliament called for further action by the Commission.
It emphasised “that an unaccompanied minor is above all a child who is potentially in danger and that child protection, rather than immigration policies, must be the leading principle for Member States and the European Union when dealing with them, thus respecting the core principle of the child’s best interests”. It identified priority areas for action, including cooperation with third countries, and called for the Member States and European Commission to take a number of measures, including strategic guidelines on the best interests and common minimum standards as well as a handbook of EU measures, which this EU Reference Document provides.
The EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016 contains a variety of general provisions which are relevant to children as well as provisions which are specific to children.
These include, in particular, 2.1. PRIORITY A: Identifying, protecting and assisting victims of trafficking addresses the establishment of national and transnational referral mechanisms, guidelines for the identification of victims, provision of information on the rights of victims.
It also contains Action 3: Protection of Child Victims of Trafficking. This notes that:
“Children are particularly vulnerable to victimisation and re-trafficking. To better protect children, the Commission will in 2014 fund the development of guidelines on child protection systems. …Member States should strengthen child protection systems for trafficking situations and ensure where return is deemed to be the child’s best interest, the safe and sustainable return of children to the country of origin, in and outside the EU, and prevent them from being re-trafficked. In addition, with respect to child trafficking, there is at present no uniform definition of a guardian and/or representative across the Member States and their roles, qualifications and understanding of competences vary from one Member State to another. In 2014, together with the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Commission intends to develop a best practice model on the role of guardians and/or representatives of child victims of trafficking.”
In addition, the EU Strategy prioritises: Increased knowledge of and effective response to emerging concerns related to all forms of trafficking in human beings, and within that focuses, inter alia, on Developing knowledge relating to the Gender Dimension of Trafficking and Vulnerable Groups, with unaccompanied children included within “vulnerable groups”.
- Council Conclusions of 25 October 2012 on the new EU strategy towards the eradication of trafficking in human beings 2012-2016, http://goo.gl/0snNPG
- Guidelines on identification of victims.
- The guidelines consist of a Commission Reference document on the Guidelines for the identification of victims of trafficking in human beings especially for border guards and consular services. The document provides for a list of indicative guidelines, refers to the existing handbooks and manuals and lists the projects on the identification of victims, in particular those targeting consular services and border guards and thus encourage their systematic use by the respective officials. See further: http://goo.gl/eS946g
- ‘The EU rights of victims of trafficking’: In order to better assist practitioners and authorities in the Member States to deliver the assistance and protection to victims, the European Commission publishes this document in all official EU languages. The EU approach places the victim and its human rights at the centre of its coordinated, multidisciplinary action to work towards eradication of trafficking in human beings. This document provides a practical and comprehensive overview of victims’ rights based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, EU directives, framework decisions and European Court of Human Rights case law. The overview will be used by victims and practitioners working in the field of trafficking in human beings and will contribute to the effective realisation of these rights by helping authorities in the Member States to deliver the assistance and protection that victims need and deserve. See: http://goo.gl/KUpkQ7
- Council Conclusions of 13 June 2013 on an EU framework for the provision of information on the rights of victims of trafficking in human beings
- Further information on EU anti-trafficking policy and measures is available on the EU Anti –Trafficking of Human Beings website: http://goo.gl/oWT1JZ
- FRA handbook on “Guardianship for children deprived of parental care. A handbook to reinforce guardianship systems to cater for the specific needs of child victims of trafficking” (2014), see Section 3.5 on FRA below
- Upcoming Commission Communication on integrated child protection systems, see Section 3.4 below
The EU Agenda for the rights of the child presents general principles that should ensure that EU action is exemplary in ensuring the respect of the provisions of the Charter and of the UNCRC with regard to the rights of children. In addition, it focuses on a number of concrete actions in areas where the EU can bring real added value, such as child-friendly justice, protecting children in vulnerable situations and fighting violence against children both inside the European Union and externally.
- Annual European Forum on the rights of the child: The annual European Forum on the rights of the child brings together a broad range of stakeholders on the rights of the child and provides a platform for exchange of views and reflection on rights of the child and EU actions. The 7th and 8th European Forum on the rights of the child (November 2012 and December 2103 respectively) focused on how implementation of the EU Agenda could support national child protection systems (CPS), offering a platform for the exchange of good practice among various actors across different settings to deliver on the protection needs of children, especially those who are vulnerable. At each forum, there was a working group on children on the move, addressing the situation of children in migration, including unaccompanied children.
- Commission Communication on integrated child protection systems: Public consultation - EU guidance on integrated Child Protection Systems. As mentioned above, the last two meetings of the Forum looked at the role of integrated child protection systems across a range of situations that children encounter, with a view to developing guidance on where and when the EU can support the EU countries, and where individual Member States can contribute to EU activities. The importance of developing such guidance was also reflected in the EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016. The Commission held a consultation to allow as wide a range of stakeholders and organisations as possible to contribute to the development of guidance on integrated child protection systems.
- Compilation of EU acquis and policy documents on the rights of the child.
- Commission study on children’s involvement in criminal, civil and administrative judicial proceedings EU28 – criminal justice results to be published May 2014, civil and administrative justice results autumn 2014.
- Commission study on child participation (UNCRC Article 12): In November 2012, the Commission started a study to map legislation, policy and practice on implementation of the child’s right to be heard in EU28.
- 116 000 hotlines for missing children: In February 2007, the Commission adopted a Decision requiring EU countries to reserve the six-digit number range starting with 116 for services of social value in the EU. 116 000 was the first telephone number reserved in all EU countries as a hotline to report missing children, including in the case of unaccompanied children of third country origin. The revised Universal Service Directive, adopted in 2009, introduced new obligations for the EU countries concerning the 116 000 hotline. It adds a specific obligation for the EU countries to “make every effort to ensure that citizens have access to the 116 000 hotline service”. In November 2010 the Commission adopted a Communication ‘Dial 116 000: The European hotline for missing children.
- Commission study on missing children in the European Union (EU27): mapping, data collection and statistics (2013) – includes data and recommendations on missing unaccompanied children.
- The Agenda also supports and encourages the development of training activities for judges and other professionals at European level regarding the optimal participation of children in judicial proceedings.
- Commission informal expert group on rights of the child: this group, chaired by a representative of the Commission and composed of delegates from national authorities, has as a mission statement to establish closer cooperation between the Commission and Member States on various issues relating to the protection and promotion of the rights of the child. Furthermore, it aims to support Member States’ efforts to ensure the respect of the rights of the child by facilitating exchange of information, experience and good practice with and among national authorities responsible for protecting and promoting the rights of the child.DG Justice website: http://goo.gl/Om0f5C
EASO’s mission is to organise and coordinate operational cooperation and to provide support in the area of asylum. EASO contributes to the development of a common European asylum system by facilitating, coordinating and strengthening practical cooperation among Member States as an independent centre of expertise. Its principal activities of relevance to unaccompanied children comprise:
In 2011 and 2013, EASO updated the EASO Training Curriculum module on ‘Interviewing Children’. This module addresses the training needs of asylum officials on issues of gender, trauma and age and aims to ensure that interviews with minors are conducted in a child-sensitive manner. This module highlights the principle of the best interest of the child, which must be a primary consideration in actions concerning children. The objectives of this module are: to provide the participants with knowledge and skills in children’s development stages; to provide specific techniques for interviewing children; and to provide knowledge and skills on how to assess the information given by a child. The update in 2013 focused on ensuring the module was consistent with the changes to legislation following the recast instruments of the CEAS.
EASO Age Assessment Practice in Europe Publication: the purpose of this publication is to provide practical support to Member States in the field of age assessment. The publication is a non-binding tool for the interpretation and implementation of the EU acquis and should serve as a reference tool to support policy makers and officials active in the development, implementation or review of age assessment procedures. Translations in German, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish are available on the website. It is also possible to provide feedback on the publication via a survey.
Family Tracing: Following a series of expert meetings on family tracing during 2013 and 2014, it was agreed that, in collaboration with Member State administrations and other experts, EASO would identify the top 10-15 words relevant to family tracing and collect and develop definitions for them as part of defining terminology on family tracing. Further to this, it was decided to develop the key findings document from the EASO family tracing questionnaire with input from the Member States and other organisations, so as to have an overview of current family tracing practice.
Child Specific Country of Origin Information: In November 2012, EASO held a workshop on the development and use of child specific country of origin information as part of the Afghanistan COI meeting. Since then the relevance of child-specific COI has been addressed in expert meetings on Family Tracing and the Best Interests of the Child within International Protection claims. EASO also contributes to the development of child-specific COI as a members of the advisory board to UNICEF on their Child notices project.
In December 2013, EASO hosted its first annual conference on unaccompanied minors. It was attended by EU Member States, European Commission, UNHCR, members of civil society including representatives from courts and tribunals. The meeting focused on review and evaluation of EASO’s activities undertaken in the field to date; discussions on support tools; and strategic planning for the efficient and productive organisation of work in this field in 2014 and beyond. EASO’s work on unaccompanied minors has been carried out within the framework of the EASO work programmes 2011-2013 and the European Commission Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors (2010-2014). Discussions included: an in depth reflection on the thematic of age assessment and family tracing, the introduction of trafficking concerns in a child context, an update from the Commission on Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors and the CEAS and discussions on the 2014 work programme.
Development by EASO of a network of actors: Since commencing its work on children in 2011 EASO has developed and facilitated good cooperation with Member State administrations and actors within civil society. Representatives from both MS administrations and civil society have expressed a wish to continue and further develop collaboration where possible. To facilitate this, EASO is creating a platform and forum to facilitate the exchange and sharing of information, including instances of good practice. Via the platform members of the network shall be able to access the following:
- EASO tools and resources;
- Relevant materials from previous meetings (agendas, presentations, background documents, minutes, questionnaires etc);
- Details of planned and upcoming meetings;
- Contact details of meeting participants and/or network members.
Membership of the network is currently open to all Member State administrations and those expert organisations who have participated in and contributed to EASO’s activities on children.
Sharing and monitoring of data on unaccompanied children: EASO is considering how it might speed up and supplement current data collection, by requesting data on a monthly basis direct from MS on applications for asylum made by those claiming to be unaccompanied minors and also withdrawals of asylum applications (either implicit or explicit) by unaccompanied minors. If Member States agree to such a data collection, in the first instance this will be, like other such operational data collection, invalidated and restricted. However, overall EU-level figures could be made public with the agreement of Member States and Associated Countries.
After the adoption of the ‘asylum package’ by the European Parliament on 12/06/2013, a new EU legislative framework was created setting out common standards aiming towards the implementation of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The revised Reception Conditions Directive comes to add on the already established minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers within Europe and aims to guarantee the highest and most harmonised standards within the Union. In this framework, EASO will develop a new Training Module on Reception with a particular reference to the provision of special reception conditions to persons with special reception needs, including separated or unaccompanied children. For the development of the Module, which is envisaged to be completed in April 2015, EASO has engaged content experts for an estimated period of one year.
The European Migration Network (EMN) is co-ordinated by the European Commission with National Contact Points (EMN NCPs) established in each EU Member State plus Norway. The EU Commission provides EMN NCPs with 80% co-financing for the implementation of EMN activities.
In 2008-2009, the European Migration Network undertook the comparative study “Policies on reception, return and integration arrangements for, and numbers of, unaccompanied minors”. This study provided, for the first time, policy-makers and practitioners, as well as the general public, with a comprehensive overview of (Member) States’ policies and practices relating to different elements of the migration process affecting unaccompanied minors, such as entry procedures, the asylum process, reception and integration arrangements as well as return.
In 2014, the EMN will produce a new study on the topic of policies, practices and data on unaccompanied minors. The study should be issued towards the end of the year.
Ad hoc Inquiries: EMN Ad-Hoc Queries are a means by which EMN NCPs and the Commission can collect comparative information from each Member States in a relatively short time on a wide range of asylum- and migration-related issues, e.g. legal migration, irregular migration, borders, return, visas etc. The EMN produces compilations of the responses to Ad-Hoc Queries, which rapidly assess the perspective of responding Member States in relation to a specific topic.
Eurojust stimulates and improves the coordination of investigations and prosecutions between the competent authorities in the Member States and improves the cooperation between the competent authorities of the Member States, in particular by facilitating the execution of international mutual legal assistance and the implementation of extradition requests. Eurojust supports the competent authorities of the Member States to render their investigations and prosecutions more effective when dealing with cross-border crime.
Eurojust deals with serious crimes concerning two or more Member States, particularly when the crimes are organised. If, in a specific case, there is an essential interest in cooperation, it is possible for Eurojust to assist even when the case does not concern organised crime or is not within its ordinary mandate (Articles 3 and 4 of the Eurojust Decision). When a serious crime against a child or children has been committed, there is often an essential interest for Eurojust to cooperate. Since its establishment, Eurojust has played an active role in fighting criminality related to children, even when those crimes appear not to be perpetrated in an organised way. As a result, a Contact Point for Child Protection Issues was appointed at Eurojust.
Europol is the European Union law enforcement agency that handles the exchange and analysis of criminal intelligence. Its mission is to improve the effectiveness and cooperation between EU law enforcement authorities in preventing and combating serious international crime and terrorism, with the aim of achieving a safer Europe for all EU citizens.
Europol is active in operational projects concerning both trafficking in human beings (Focal Point Phoenix) and facilitated illegal immigration into the EU (Focal Point Checkpoint), although neither deal specifically with unaccompanied children.
The European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex) was established in 2004 to reinforce and streamline cooperation between national border authorities. Frontex has several areas of activity including conducting joint operations conducted using Member States’ staff and equipment at the external borders (sea, land and air); developing common training standards and specialist tools for border guards; engaging in risk analysis on the ongoing situation at the external borders; research; a pooled resource in the form of European Border Guard Teams (EBGT) and an extensive database of available equipment in full readiness in case of a crisis situation at the external border; and developing and operating information systems enabling the exchange of such information, including the Information and Coordination Network established by Decision 2005/267/EC and European border surveillance system. Frontex also works with the border-control authorities of non-EU/Schengen countries – mainly those countries identified as a source or transit route of irregular migration – in line with general EU external relations policy.
Aegalus (2007): To raise awareness about and gather data on the entry of unaccompanied minors (under 18) to the EU.
Unaccompanied Minors in the Migration Process (December 2010): Frontex released the results of its first Tailored Risk Analysis into unaccompanied minors in European migration. The analysis, conducted in response to a request by the European Commission, was intended to identify the extent and nature of the phenomenon, the profile of groups most at risk, the ‘pull’ and ‘push’ factors involved and the Member States most concerned, as well as providing a medium-term forecast of trends and offering recommendations for action.
Hammer (2011): Joint Operation Hammer 2011 was carried out at regional level seeking primarily to improve the practices and procedures on irregular migration involving children (including potential victims of trafficking) and secondarily to face the increased abuse and misuse of Schengen visas and transit concession without visas. Hammer 2011 also aimed at further developing cooperation with Partner Organisations. It resulted in operational guidelines on how to deal with children, including unaccompanied children, at the external borders.
Anti-Trafficking Training for Border Guards, a Trainers Manual, including a Tool Kit (2011): The anti-trafficking training for border guards – Trainers’ manual was developed by the Frontex Training Unit with the active participation of a multidisciplinary team comprising experts from 12 EU Member States and one Schengen associated country (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom), as well as experts from CEPOL and Eurojust. The international organisations IOM, OHCHR, OSCE, UNHCR and UNICEF also contributed to the development of the manual to ensure the reflection of international standards and a human rights-based approach. This anti-trafficking trainers’ manual was developed in line with the latest international and European standards, emphasising that the fundamental rights of the trafficked person are at the centre of all efforts addressing trafficking in human beings. Particular attention is paid to the situation of vulnerable groups, such as children and persons in need of international protection. The main goal is to support national trainers in their efforts to train the border guards to ‘do the right things right and better every day’. It aims to assist the national trainers to equip border guards with the special skills needed to effectively fight trafficking in human beings. The training should provide border guards with practical guidance, tailored to their scope of work and focusing on awareness raising of trafficking in human beings and the identification and interviewing of potential victims and perpetrators.
VEGA Children (2014): The project takes its name from the existing Vega Handbook; a practical guide for border guards on the detection and disruption of human trafficking at air borders. But while Vega outlines common modi operandi, signs to look for, measures for first- and second- line border control as well as for follow-up and investigation, it has no provisions specifically for the phenomenon of child trafficking. Hence the need for a specialised version for minors — Vega Children. The main output of the Vega Children Handbook is to gather an EU comprehensive approach on children trafficking by collecting best practices from air border authorities having already systems in place at airports. These practices have been merged in an EU Manual focusing on law enforcement perspective, to be shared with a wide range of stakeholders and non law enforcement operators.
The central task of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency is to provide EU institutions and Member States with independent, evidence-based advice on fundamental rights. Its essential aim is to contribute towards ensuring full respect for fundamental rights across the EU by collecting and analysing information and data; providing assistance and expertise and communicating and raising rights awareness. Its principal activities of relevance to unaccompanied children include:
FRA Report on “ Separated, asylum-seeking children in European Union Member” (2010). The study examines the living conditions, provisions and decision making procedures in selected EU Member States through child centred participatory research. The study looked at the prospects and experiences of unaccompanied children in 12 EU Member States. It identified good practices and shortcomings of the existing systems in relation to aspects such as accommodation, access to healthcare, education and training, legal representation, the role of social workers, age assessment, family tracing and reunification.
FRA Study on “Child Trafficking in the EU - Challenges, perspectives and good practices” (2009). The study was based on desk research in all EU MS. The report reveals that the disappearance of children from shelters and similar facilities is widespread, and that there is a high risk of these children falling victim to trafficking. Among other recommendations made it is suggested that protection and care (standards of living, education, health care, family tracing) of victims of child trafficking should be made obligatory for Member States. Victims of child trafficking need to be ensured of appropriate guidance from legal guardians with satisfactory professional backgrounds, and enough time to develop personal contact with them.
FRA handbook on “Guardianship for children deprived of parental care. A handbook to reinforce guardianship systems to cater for the specific needs of child victims of trafficking” (2014). As a follow-up to the EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016, in July 2014 FRA jointly with the European Commission will publish a handbook on Guardianship for children deprived of parental care to reinforce guardianship systems to cater for the specific needs of child victims of trafficking. The handbook aims to strengthen the protection of children by assisting national authorities and other stakeholders across the EU to further develop existing guardianship systems. The handbook seeks to clarify the role of the guardian and promotes a shared understanding of the main principles and features of a guardianship system. The handbook will be jointly launched by DG Home and FRA, June 2014.
FRA Mapping Child Protection Systems (2014). The European Commission asked FRA to develop an overview of national child protection systems. FRA will examine the scope and key components of national child protection systems across the EU. The focus will be on the systems’ laws, structures, actors and how the systems function, as well as human and financial resources and the existing accountability mechanisms. The research will explore how these systems operate and how they address the specific needs of particular groups of children, examining also national and transnational coordination and interagency cooperation. FRA is currently conducting research on child protection systems through FRANET collecting information and data on the key components of child protection systems across the 28 EU Member States. Findings will be communicated to the European Commission to feed into its work on the development of EU guidelines on child protection systems at the end of June 2014. More information:
FRA, Research on Children and Justice (2014). The project looks at the treatment of children in the justice systems of the European Union (EU), which is an important issue of concern for EU institutions and Member States. The research will identify forms of child participation in criminal and civil judicial proceedings, as well as collect promising practices, in 10 EU Member States. The research will mainly be based on interviews with professionals and children involved in such proceedings.
While the research does not focus in particular on unaccompanied children, it addresses the situation of all children that might be involved in criminal or civil proceeding as victims of witnesses. This is very often the case with child victims of human trafficking. Findings from the interviewees with professionals will be available at the fourth quarter of 2014.
FRA, Handbook of European Law on the Rights of the Child (forthcoming 2015). FRA, the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights have agreed to conclude a handbook which aims at synthesising the European and national legislation, case law and jurisprudence in the field of the rights of the child in order to raise awareness and knowledge amongst judges and legal practitioners at national and European level, including national child protection authorities/institutions. The handbook will provide legal professionals with an accessible summary and analysis of the relevant case law of the CJEU, the ECtHR, and the ECSR with the objective of improving the implementation of children’s rights in Europe.
FRA, Report on “Fundamental rights at Europe’s southern sea borders” (2013). This report, examines the conditions at Europe’s southern sea borders with respect to the most fundamental rights of a person, the right to life and the right not to be sent back to torture, persecution or inhuman treatment. It examines practices across the EU Member States researched – Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain. The situation of unaccompanied children and families at the boarders is addressed.
Treatment of third-country nationals at the EU’s external borders: Surveying border checks at selected border crossing points. In the second half of 2014 FRA will be launching the results of research on the treatment of third-country nationals at border crossing points (6 large land borders) and airports (5 large airports). Drawing on primary information collected through interviews with third-country nationals, border guards, and other persons the reports will identify possible shortcomings as well as good practices in the way border checks are conducted, seeking to assist policymakers and practitioners to enhance the quality of border checks at crossing points.The issue of identification of vulnerable groups at the boarders and in particular the treatment of unaccompanied children are addressed.
FRA report on the “Fundamental rights of migrants in an irregular situation in the EU” (2011). FRA work in this area examine the legal and practical challenges facing EU Member States as they strive to guarantee such migrants’ fundamental rights and proposes ways to incorporate those rights into the policies, laws and administrative practices that affect migrants in irregular situations. The report examines, for instance, the situation of those that could not be removed and who may risk remaining in legal limbo for many years. The report presents data on access to education, health and housing for unaccompanied children and families with children.
FRA report “Migrants in an irregular situation: access to healthcare in 10 European Union Member States” (2011). This report explores the access to healthcare granted to irregular migrants in 10 EU Member States. It focuses on migrants who are present in an irregular situation, namely those who do not fulfil conditions for entry, stay or residence. The report presents data on access to health for unaccompanied children and families with children.
Apprehension of migrants in an irregular situation – fundamental rights considerations. The obligation under Article 6(1) of the Return Directive to issue a return decision to any third-country national staying illegally on their territory is subject to the principle of proportionality expressly recognised by the Return Directive. But, certain practices to detect irregular migrants may disproportionately discourage them from accessing essential services, such as health, education and legal services. Do’s and don’ts for law enforcement officials on apprehension practices were developed with the involvement of Member State experts, the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) as well as the European Commission.
FRA report: Detention of third country nationals in return procedures. In 2010 FRA examined law and practice in the EU 27 on the deprivation of liberty of irregular migrants pending their removal against the applicable international human rights law framework. The 2012 FRA annual report, published in 2013 includes an overview of the use of alternatives to detention in the EU. The report addresses in particular the situation of unaccompanied children and of families.
Handbook on European law relating to asylum, borders and immigration. Developed in cooperation with the European Court of Human Rights, the handbook examines the relevant law in the field of asylum, borders and immigration stemming from both European systems: the European Union and the Council of Europe. It provides an accessible guide to the various European standards relevant to asylum, borders and immigration. The handbook is regularly up-dated, and the next version will be ready June/July 2014. Unaccompanied children are covered in a separate chapter. More information:
Forced marriages. On request of the European Commission, FRA reviewed the legal and policy responses provided by EU MSs to fight forced marriage and highlighted some promising practices implemented in 5 MSs (FR, NL, DE, SE and UK). The report examines different ways of using criminal, civil, private and international, as well as migration and asylum law to address forced marriage (e.g. using family reunification procedures). The report will be published the third quarter of 2014.
FRA research on “Victims of severe form of labour exploitation” (SELEX). Through fieldwork interviews and desk research, the project will collect information about the situation on the ground with regard to: the forms and frequency of labour exploitation incidents; the economic areas affected; common risk factors that contribute to labour exploitation; prevention measures aimed to reduce the risk of labour exploitation; and the obligations of specific organizations involved in preventing labour exploitation and supporting victims and the cooperation that exists between them. The research will begin by seeking a general overview of the situation of victims of labour exploitation in all 28 Member States. It will examine national legislation criminalizing labour exploitation and what forms of exploitation are covered (and what gaps exist). Potential areas of high risk for labour exploitation will also be identified. The fieldwork will involve interviews and focus group discussions in selected EU Member States with various professional groups such as the police, labour inspectorates and victim support organizations. Case studies will also be collected. The study, although not in particular targeting children, addresses issues related to child victims. The project assesses legislation in place at MS level criminalising the exploitation of child labour and in addition looks into the role of youth welfare organisations in countering the exploitation of migrant children. The results will be launched in the first half of 2015.
FRA research on “Victim Support Services in the EU: An overview and assessment of victims’ rights in practice”. Based on desk research and qualitative interviews to confirm the research findings, the project collected summary overviews of victim support systems from each Member State. This was followed up with more detailed data collection on and analysis of existing systems and services – including details about support services offered by both states and NGOs. Alongside a general overview of victim support services, the research identify promising practices with respect to generic services, available to victims of all types of crime) victim support services, including some examples from specific victim support services (available to, for instance, victims of human trafficking). The study concerns support to victims of crime in general and not children explicitly. The results will be launched in the third quarter of 2014.
The EU is engaged in a variety of different activities with and in third countries to address a range of different aspects of the situation of unaccompanied children. The Mid Term Report on the implementation of the Action Plan makes reference to the ongoing EU funding in the field of prevention of unsafe migration, child protection and capacity building. It also identifies moments where unaccompanied children were addressed in political dialogue and Migration and Mobility dialogues. Specific actions concerning unaccompanied minors are also listed in the 2012-2016 Action Plan of the Prague Process. It notes other international cooperation in the form of exchange of practices and experiences by receiving countries in the context of the G8 and the EU-US Platform for Cooperation on Migration and Refugee issues. In order to improve information for prospective migrants, the Commission included a reference to unaccompanied children in the EU Immigration Portal launched in November 2011.
The Plan also underlines the need for “continuous and stable engagement with countries of origin and transit” in the future and notes the importance “that such cooperation should not be limited to prevention measures, but should also address other relevant issues such as restoring family links, ensuring the safe return of children, and re-trafficking risks.
- EU Guidelines on Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child, http://goo.gl/TpwLk3
- Global Approach to Migration and Mobility: the GAMM, renewed in November 2011, is the overarching framework for the EU external migration policy, complementary to the EU foreign policy and development cooperation. Dialogue and cooperation with non-EU countries in the context of the GAMM is based on the identification of common interests and challenges. Respect for the rights and dignity of migrants is an essential cross-cutting dimension of this policy framework. http://goo.gl/cZMcJ9
- Staff Working Document on migration and development
The Staff Working Document accompanying the Commission’s mid-term report on unaccompanied minors contained a listing of projects funded by the EU in the area. Sources of funding include the European Refugee Fund, the Return Fund, the Integration Fund, the Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme, Daphne Programme and ISEC funding. 1n 2012, the European Parliament released funding for a call for pilot projects which has been issued twice in 2013 and again in 2014.