European Scrutiny Committee Contents

78 Unaccompanied minors



COM(10) 213

+ ADD 1

Commission Communication: Action Plan on unaccompanied minors (2010-14)

Commission staff working document: Annex I, overview of relevant EU policy and legislation and the main requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of the child; and Annex II, bibliography

Legal base
Document originated6 May 2010
Deposited in Parliament25 May 2010
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 28 May 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussed in Council3-4 June 2010
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


78.1 The EU has adopted extensive legislation on asylum and immigration. It includes provisions which are specific to children as well as general provisions which apply to children and adults alike. The legislation is summarised in the Commission staff working document at ADD 1 of the Commission's Communication.

78.2 For the purposes of the Communication, the Commission defines unaccompanied minors as people under the age of 18 who arrive in a Member State unaccompanied by a responsible adult or who are left unaccompanied after they have entered EU territory.

78.3 In December 2009, the European Council adopted the Stockholm Programme. It sets out the EU's priorities and intentions on justice and home affairs for the next five years. Section 2.3.2 of the Programme calls upon the Commission to identify measures, to which the EU can bring added value, to promote the rights of the child, including unaccompanied minors.

78.4 In section 6.1.7 of the Stockholm Programme, the European Council welcomes the Commission's intention 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 [sic] do not require international protection, while recognising that the best interests for many may be their reunion with their families and development in their own social and cultural environment."[340]

The document

78.5 This document contains the Action Plan to which the Stockholm Programme refers.

78.6 The Commission says that unaccompanied minors are highly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. It believes that a common EU approach to their needs is necessary. It should be based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

78.7 At present, the statistics on unaccompanied minors in the EU are neither comprehensive nor comparable. In 2007, 8,030 applications for asylum were made by unaccompanied minors in 22 Member States; the comparable figure for 2008 was 11,292, an increase of 40%. But it is not known how many unaccompanied minors have not applied for asylum and are living in the EU without leave to do so.

78.8 Following consultations with Member States, non-governmental organisations and others, the Commission proposes an Action Plan to:

  • secure the production, collection and analysis of comprehensive, reliable and comparable data on unaccompanied minors;
  • prevent trafficking in minors and unsafe migration by unaccompanied minors;
  • improve the reception and protection of unaccompanied minors;
  • improve both the assessment of the age of unaccompanied young people who claim to be minors and the tracing of family members in countries of origin; and
  • find durable solutions based on an assessment of what would be in the best interests of the individual child.

78.9 The Plan sets out the action the Commission considers necessary achieve each of these aims. Paragraphs 78.10-78.15 below illustrate the proposals.

78.10 The Commission proposes, for example, that data on unaccompanied minors should be improved through, among other things, the exchange of information between Member States in the framework of the European Asylum Support Office and the European Migration Network. The Plan invites the European Asylum Support Office to collect data and develop country of origin information relevant to the assessment of the need for protection of unaccompanied minors.

78.11 The Commission proposes that trafficking in minors and unsafe migration should be prevented by, for example, the use of EU's and Member States' existing expenditure programmes to support activities in third countries to counter trafficking, protect children from violence and develop birth registration and child protection systems.

78.12 The Commission notes that the existing EU legislation on asylum seekers does not provide illegally resident immigrants and victims of trafficking with consistent standards of reception and assistance. For example, at present Member States are required to provide personal representatives only to unaccompanied minors who are seeking asylum. In the Commission's view, all unaccompanied minors should be entitled to representatives with the same functions and powers. Moreover, Member States should ensure that unaccompanied minors sever any contact they may have had with traffickers or smugglers; and that unaccompanied minors should be placed in accommodation which is appropriate to their needs. The Action Plan says that the asylum and immigration legislation should be revised to achieve these aims. It also invites FRONTEX to include in its training of border guards a module on how to detect unaccompanied minors and other particularly vulnerable people. [341]

78.13 The Commission says that, to improve age assessment and the tracing of family members, it will, for example, issue Best Practice Guidance on assessment and encourage Member States to adopt a common approach to the tracing of family members.

78.14 The Commission says that the durable solutions for unaccompanied minors should be:

  • return to and reintegration in the country of origin; or
  • grant of international protection or another legal status, paving the way for the unaccompanied minor to become integrated in the host Member State; or
  • resettlement.

In the Commission's view, it is often in the best interests of unaccompanied minors for them to be reunited with their families in their countries of origin or transit. So the Action Plan encourages Member States to develop partnerships with countries of origin and transit and, for example, to fund education, training and re-integration projects.

78.15 The Action Plan also says that, where an unaccompanied minor is granted asylum or other leave to remain, Member States should, for example, make full use of the European Refugee Fund and the Fund for the Integration of third-county nationals. The Commission will encourage Member States to make maximum use of the Refugee Fund to support the resettlement in third countries of unaccompanied minors who are refuges.

78.16 The Commission plans to report in 2012 and by 2015 on the implementation of the Action Plan.

The Government's view

78.17 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 28 May, the Minister for Immigration at the Home Office (Damian Green) tells us that:

"The Action Plan has no policy implications for the UK. Like most EU countries, the United Kingdom does not return unaccompanied minors to their countries of origin unless safe arrangements can be made for their reception and care. The difficulty in tracing parents and the lack of suitable national care systems in many of the countries the children come from makes this difficult to achieve. The Government will examine carefully any case put forward for strengthening legislative measures aimed at enhancing support and care systems for the minors while they are in the EU Member States. Such measures may, however, have limited applicability to the United Kingdom given that unaccompanied minors receive the same care and support under children's legislation as any other child in need."[342]


78.18 We share the concern of the European Council and Commission about unaccompanied minors who have entered the EU illegally or in search of asylum. They are vulnerable and should receive appropriate care and protection. They are not evenly distributed across the UK and their number is not known. So it is difficult for local authorities to make the plans necessary to meet their needs for education, housing and social services.

78.19 It seems to us that the Commission's Action Plan contains some useful practical proposals. The Plan outlines a few proposals for new EU legislation. If the proposals are made, they will come to us for scrutiny and we shall reserve comment until we see them. Meanwhile, we have no questions to put to the Minister and we are content to clear the Action Plan from scrutiny with this short report to draw the document to the attention of the House.

340   Stockholm Programme, page 68 (17024/09). Back

341   FRONTEX is the EU agency for the coordination of operational cooperation between Member States at their external borders. Back

342   Minister's Explanatory Memorandum, paragraph 15. Back

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