Children in crisis: unaccompanied migrant children in the EU Contents

Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

Reception conditions

1.Witnesses’ accounts paint a harrowing picture of the squalor, destitution and desperation unaccompanied migrant children face across the EU. Reception conditions in several Member States appear to amount to systematic detention. (Paragraph 156)

2.While material reception conditions vary, the conditions faced by unaccompanied migrant children in some Member States lead us to conclude that, collectively, Member States are fundamentally failing to comply with their obligations under EU and international law to receive and protect children in a manner that recognises their specific vulnerability. (Paragraph 157)

3.The evidence suggests that conditions in some Hotspots are inadequate to meet the needs of migrants who enter them. As a result, children in particular are suffering. The Commission and the European Asylum Support Office should step up efforts to monitor conditions for children at hotspots. The role of the Commission’s Child Rights Coordinator in this respect should also be strengthened. (Paragraph 158)

4.Conditions at the camps in the French Channel ports are also wholly unsuitable for children. The Government should increase its efforts to work with the French government in improving the situation of children in these camps. (Paragraph 159)

5.The provision of legal advice and information of an adequate quality is essential to ensure that the rights of unaccompanied migrant children are properly safeguarded. We are particularly concerned that in the UK the provision of free legal advice has been drastically curtailed. (Paragraph 168)

6.Age disputes have significant consequences for children’s lives, and there is clear evidence that children have been placed in unsuitable conditions on the basis of a mistaken age assessment. Where doubt exists, authorities should observe their legal obligation to give young people claiming to be children the benefit of that doubt. (Paragraph 55)

Implementation of existing standards

7.We endorse the Commission’s monitoring of Member States’ compliance with the existing asylum acquis, and urge it to strengthen EASO’s role in this process. Additional steps should be taken to monitor compliance specifically with those provisions relating to vulnerable groups, including unaccompanied children. (Paragraph 122)

8.Access to legal advice, mental healthcare and education is inconsistent across Member States. Many Member States appear to be in breach of obligations, under the Reception Conditions Directive, to provide such services in a timely manner. (Paragraph 178)

9.We urge the Commission to make additional support available to Member States struggling to fulfil their obligations under the acquis, including through increasing EASO’s mandate and resources in this area. (Paragraph 123)

10.Some key objectives of the 2010–2014 EU Action Plan on unaccompanied minors, including improved data collection and the development of durable solutions, have not yet been achieved. Regardless of its expiry in 2014, we consider the priorities set out within the existing Plan to be the right ones, and urge the EU institutions and Member States to take stock of outstanding measures and prioritise their implementation. (Paragraph 134)

11.Further EU action on unaccompanied migrant children should focus on the implementation of those priorities of the 2010–2014 Action Plan which have not yet been achieved. We urge the Commission to ensure that appropriate resources, including any necessary training, are made available to Member States in order to achieve the full implementation of these objectives. (Paragraph 246)

12.The actions and omissions of EU Member States, in particular their failure to implement the existing provisions on family reunification, are contributing to an increased vulnerability of unaccompanied migrant children to smugglers, traffickers and organised crime. (Paragraph 205)

Missing unaccompanied migrant children

13.The disappearance of an unaccompanied migrant child is in many cases the final consequence of the failures and omissions by Member State authorities outlined in this report. We deplore the failure by EU Member States, including the United Kingdom, to take urgent action following the announcement of Europol’s latest figures, which showed a further rise in disappearances. (Paragraph 222)

The best interests of the child principle

14.It is a fundamental principle of international law that children’s best interests must be taken into account, as a primary consideration, in any decision that concerns them. As we have noted, that principle is embodied in both European and domestic law, but is largely ignored in practice. (Paragraph 261)

15.The evidence shows that, while the best interests principle is formally acknowledged in the EU acquis, the room for interpretation allowed to Member States is such that it is not being fully implemented in practice. (Paragraph 111)

16.To give real effect to the best interests principle, we urge the Commission to adopt minimum standards for best interests assessments. To this end, the Commission should propose amendments to the EU asylum and trafficking acquis to require relevant authorities to undertake and provide evidence of rigorous best interests assessments. Such assessments should be consistent with General Comment 14 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. (Paragraph 262)

17.It is essential that individual best interests assessments should take full account of the views of the children concerned and should include evidence of having done so. Member State authorities conducting age assessments should listen to the accounts of children and give them proper weight. (Paragraph 267)

18.In the absence of a generally accepted, reliable and non-invasive means of assessing age medically, the frequency of non-medical age assessments, particularly in the UK, indicates a widespread reluctance to believe unaccompanied migrant children’s narratives. (Paragraph 54)

19.Any future EU action on unaccompanied minors, regardless of its format, must be based explicitly on the best interests of the child principle. To help achieve this, we urge the Commission, European Parliament and other EU Institutions and Agencies to develop formal mechanisms to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are heard from directly in the development of policies affecting them. (Paragraph 268)

20.In the UK, there is evidence to suggest that, despite the existence of guidance on the application of the best interests principle, it is not respected and is regarded as an impediment to the effective operation of immigration controls. (Paragraph 112)

21.We further recommend that the UK Government should develop, apply and routinely monitor national guidance on how to conduct best interests assessments with regard to unaccompanied minors. We call on the Government to revisit its response to the JCHR’s 2013 report, and in particular to review the extent to which it has fulfilled its promise to consider the case for establishing a Best Interests Determination process. (Paragraph 263)

Durable solutions

22.The creation of durable solutions, like adherence to the best interests principle, appears to be a mantra rather than an effective guiding principle for EU and Member State action. (Paragraph 199)

23.We call upon the Commission to reiterate its recommendation, made in the 2010–2014 Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors, that there should be a stronger focus in EU and national integration policies on developing durable solutions for unaccompanied migrant children. Resources should be allocated to ensure that this recommendation is now put into practice. (Paragraph 280)

24.The Commission should also reiterate its recommendation that decisions on the future of each unaccompanied minor should be taken by the competent authorities within the shortest possible period. (Paragraph 281)

25.Against this backdrop, the Commission should prioritise the issuing of guidance on achieving durable solutions for unaccompanied migrant children. In so doing, it should draw upon the experience of EASO as well as on pre-existing guidance such as that established by UNHCR. (Paragraph 282)

26.We are concerned that large numbers of young adults, who left their countries of origin as children, are being returned to those countries without adequate support. (Paragraph 194)

Integrated child protection systems

27.All children needing protection have the legal right to receive it, regardless of immigration status, citizenship or background. That right should be recognised, and all those under 18 should be treated as children, first and foremost. (Paragraph 70)

28.An integrated child protection system enables children within the immigration system to be treated as ‘children first’, encourages sharing of best practice in child welfare and reduces the risk that public bodies will fail to take responsibility for a child. We therefore support the Commission’s intention to develop a comprehensive and holistic approach for all migrant children. (Paragraph 254)

29.Any new Action Plan should be embedded in such an integrated approach. It should take forward the priority actions of the previous Action Plan, review the implementation of existing laws and policies, and seek to implement them fully. (Paragraph 255)

30.The distrust felt by unaccompanied migrant children is both a symptom and a cause of many challenges described in this report. Rebuilding trust should therefore be a core cross-cutting objective in any proposals to address these challenges, and an essential measure of their success. (Paragraph 140)

Solidarity and burden-sharing among Member States

31.We regret the fact that Member States have made so little progress in relocating unaccompanied migrant children within the EU; in particular, we deplore the continuing reluctance of the UK Government to show solidarity with its European partners in helping to relocate such children. (Paragraph 92)

32.The Commission should encourage Member States to revisit their relocation pledges with a renewed focus on unaccompanied migrant children. Member States should consider extending existing national resettlement schemes to include relocation of children already within the EU. (Paragraph 93)

33.Member States, the Commission and the relevant EU Agencies should ensure that the cases of unaccompanied children are prioritised within EU relocation schemes operated from Hotspots. (Paragraph 356)

34.Any decision taken by Member States to relocate an unaccompanied migrant child within the EU must, in line with international law, be based upon an assessment of the best interests of the child. (Paragraph 357)

35.In keeping with the Prime Minister’s statement on 4 May 2016, we urge the Government to act promptly and to work in partnership with frontline France, Greece, Italy and the UNHCR to relocate significant numbers of unaccompanied migrant children to the UK. Relocation to the UK must take place as soon as possible, and in full accordance with individual best interests assessments. (Paragraph 358)

36.We welcome the Government’s recent deployment of 75 experts to help with processing and registration of migrants at reception centres in Greece. Member States must ensure the continuity of such support to frontline Member States. The Commission and relevant EU Agencies should monitor closely whether the personnel deployed continues to meet specific needs on the ground. (Paragraph 359)

37.We note the concerns of our witnesses, that EU Agencies working in the field of unaccompanied migrant children are under-resourced. We therefore welcome in principle the Commission’s proposal to replace the European Asylum Support Office with an expanded EU Agency for Asylum. We retain this proposal under scrutiny, and will pay particular attention to the powers of the reformed Agency, and the resources available to it to support unaccompanied migrant children in particular. (Paragraph 365)

38.We also take this opportunity to reiterate our recommendation in our report on the EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling, that the Commission must allocate resources to EU Agencies transparently and according to clear criteria. (Paragraph 366)

Allocation of responsibility, solidarity and burden-sharing at national level

39.The Commission should encourage Member States to designate a single lead authority with responsibility for the welfare of all unaccompanied migrant children, regardless of their immigration status. Where necessary, additional assistance should be made available to frontline Member States by the Commission and other Member States to ensure that such authorities are well-equipped to fulfil this responsibility. (Paragraph 335)

40.The impediments to joint working in the United Kingdom start at the highest level of central government, where responsibility for unaccompanied migrant children is divided between the Home Office and the Department for Education. We recommend that the Government review the allocation of responsibility for such children within central government, with a view to identifying ways to ensure better cross-departmental working. (Paragraph 345)

41.We share our witnesses’ concern that a lack of clear structures for involvement by civil society and international organisations at EU and national level risks further diffusing Member States’ responsibility for unaccompanied migrant children. (Paragraph 334)

42.The admirable work of non-governmental organisations is not a substitute for effective Member State action. The individual Member States should remain ultimately responsible for meeting the needs of unaccompanied migrant children. (Paragraph 340)

43.We urge the Commission to continue to provide financial and other support to non-governmental organisations representing unaccompanied migrant children, and to encourage local authorities to work in partnership with them. (Paragraph 341)

44.In the UK, we urge the Government also to provide such support. We further recommend that the Government consider granting non-governmental organisations that work with unaccompanied minors the right to be consulted by local authorities in individual cases, for example, through guardianship. (Paragraph 342)

45.We urge the Government to ensure that adequate funds are allocated to local authority services for unaccompanied migrant children in a timely and transparent manner. (Paragraph 347)

46.We agree with our witnesses that the phenomenon of unaccompanied migrant children in the UK is a national, not merely a local, problem, and acknowledge the disproportionate burden that is currently falling on a few local authorities. It is therefore regrettable that those local authorities receiving the highest numbers of unaccompanied migrant children have to date received so little support from other councils. (Paragraph 352)

47.We regret that those local authorities that are receiving the highest numbers of unaccompanied migrant children have had so little voluntary support from others. This lack of solidarity within the UK replicates a pattern that is all too common across the EU. (Paragraph 98)

48.We welcome the Government’s adoption of a National Transfer Scheme for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children on 1 July 2016, and the emphasis that this scheme places on the best interests of the child. We urge the Government to ensure that, in practice, decisions to disperse unaccompanied migrant children are made only in the best interests of the child, and take into account the facilities available in the destination local authority, as well as family or cultural links. Where necessary, the Government should make additional funding available to authorities that are not well-equipped to receive and provide specialised care for migrant children. (Paragraph 353)

Data collection and sharing

49.There is a lack of reliable and disaggregated data on the situation of unaccompanied migrant children across the EU. Double-counting is widespread, and the multitude of data that are available are often not comparable and are not effectively shared among Member States or between Member States and the EU institutions. (Paragraph 237)

50.The lack of data exacerbates many of the specific difficulties faced by unaccompanied migrant children in the EU. Uncertainty about the number and profile of unaccompanied migrant children obscures the nature and scale of the problems they face, and hinders effective policy making to address their needs. In particular, a lack of reliable data hinders the ability of Member State authorities to trace and protect missing unaccompanied migrant children, and thereby increases their vulnerability to smugglers and human traffickers. (Paragraph 238)

51.All Member States should urgently implement processes to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are correctly identified and registered as soon as they come into contact with relevant authorities. (Paragraph 273)

52.We welcome the Commission’s proposal, in recasting the Eurodac Regulation, that Member States should be required to take fingerprints from all unaccompanied migrant children, including those under the age of 14. In scrutinising this proposal, we shall be vigilant in assessing its impact on child welfare and the data protection safeguards: the personal data of children should be stored and shared only where it is in their best interests. (Paragraph 274)

53.We call on the Commission to propose amendments to the Statistics Regulation to require Member States to submit disaggregated figures on the numbers of unaccompanied minors, who are detected entering, or residing in, Member States irregularly; who are subject to return; and, who are subject to family reunification decisions. (Paragraph 275)

54.We support the Commission’s stated intention to propose improvements to the categories of data entered into the Schengen Information System, to ensure the availability of disaggregated data on missing unaccompanied migrant children. (Paragraph 276)

55.We urge the Commission systematically to monitor and gather data on returned unaccompanied migrant children and young adults. It could do this through monitoring compliance with the Returns Directive. (Paragraph 294)

56.The Government should aim to establish communication with welfare and law enforcement officials in countries to which it returns former unaccompanied migrant children. It should systematically monitor and gather data on those that it returns. It should also make greater effort to trace family members. (Paragraph 295)

Family Reunification

57.Opportunities for unaccompanied migrant children to exercise their right to family reunification are inconsistently implemented across the EU, and are particularly limited in the UK. We are concerned by the recent trend in some Member States to ‘level down’ opportunities for family reunification, by falling back on the minimum requirements set out in the Family Reunification Directive. (Paragraph 127)

58.We urge the Commission to prioritise the facilitation of family reunification in the reform of the Common European Asylum System, including for unaccompanied migrant children in receipt of subsidiary protection. We hope that the Commission will also encourage Member States offering a higher standard of protection than that proscribed in the Directive to maintain this higher standard. (Paragraph 290)

59.We found no evidence to support the Government’s argument that the prospect of family reunification could encourage families to send children into Europe unaccompanied in order to act as an ‘anchor’ for other family members. If this were so, we would expect to see evidence of this happening in Member States that participate in the Family Reunification Directive. Instead, the evidence shows that some children are reluctant to seek family reunification, for fear that it may place family members in danger. (Paragraph 62)

60.We recommend that the UK Government reconsider its restrictive position on family reunification. Legal aid should be available to unaccompanied migrant children for the purposes of proceedings for family reunification. (Paragraph 291)


61.We call upon the Commission to bring forward legislative proposals to set binding minimum standards that would give effect to the concept of guardianship. Such minimum standards should include appointing a guardian as soon as possible where a child is identified as unaccompanied; requiring the guardian to be independent of the immigration system; and requiring the guardian to act in the child’s best interests until a durable solution is identified. (Paragraph 320)

62.With regard to the UK, we are persuaded by evidence from England and Wales and from Scotland that the role of guardian should be independent, and should not be undertaken by social workers. We call on the Government to establish a guardianship service in England and Wales for all unaccompanied migrant children. In so doing, the Government should consider whether this service could be delivered by non-governmental organisations or civil society, with appropriate state support. (Paragraph 321)


63.We support the efforts made by the Commission, EASO and FRA to develop joint training and guidance. We urge the Member States, through the Council, to encourage relevant EU Agencies to continue developing models for training, as well as handbooks and guidelines for child protection professionals. This work should be extended to cover any training needs specific to those professionals dealing with unaccompanied migrant children. (Paragraph 367)

64.The Commission should work with EASO and FRA, as a matter of urgency, to assess continuing training needs and develop further guidance in relevant areas, for example with regard to durable solutions. (Paragraph 368)

65.EU Agencies are already working to disseminate guidance and share best practice, for example regarding age assessment and the best interests principle. The onus is on Member States in particular, including the United Kingdom, to support these efforts, and turn theory into reality, thereby achieving a better and more harmonised level of protection for unaccompanied migrant children across the EU. (Paragraph 369)

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