Lost in migration

Working together in protecting children from disappearance

    Preliminary operational recommendations

    Based on the findings of the SUMMIT[1]report and other research and recommendations pushed by partners involved in the “Lost in migration” conference, the following operational changes should be set to better prevent and respond to the disappearance of children in migration in Europe:
    1. Better accommodation and reception: Reception facilities must meet the needs of children, and in particular unaccompanied children, in line with their best interests. They should include swift and child friendly registration and information-sharing, access to shelter, health care, play, psychosocial assistance and referral where needed. Efforts should be undertaken to provide accommodation in smaller family units. The standards of quality of accommodation should be similar within the European Union and this should be verified against common qualitative benchmarks. Where relevant, especially in cases of child victims of trafficking or exploitation, children should be placed in supervised accommodation with personnel trained specifically on these matters. Children should however never be detained; detention is never in the best interests of the child.
    1. Professional guardians to be swiftly appointed for all unaccompanied children: A guardian should be appointed immediately after the child’s arrival and assist and represent them at all hearings, ensure their best interests are respected and exercise legal capacity where necessary, also when children do not apply for asylum or are unaccompanied. Guardians should be independent, trained, sufficiently funded and held accountable for to safeguard the child's best interests.
    1. Standardisation of practices for the assessment of risks, in particular in the context of children who are or have been a victim of human trafficking, and appropriate training on these practices. A more systematic and efficient risk assessment could allow to prioritise (scarce) resources to the cases of those children who face the most urgent risk for their safety and it is essential to take decisions in the best interest of the child and to prevent harm.
    1. Formalisation of the cooperation between professionals involved in the situation of a missing unaccompanied child, as it allows for a clear division of tasks and definition of procedures, a substantial improvement of the cooperation and faster and more appropriate reactions when needed. This is also important to ensure that necessary procedures and protocols are in place to systematically report and respond to instances of unaccompanied children going missing.[2] The best interests of the child must be the guiding principle when structuring this cooperation.
    1. More resource for training of all professionals working with children, including law enforcement, health professionals, carers and school personnel. Training should include:
    • modules on risk assessment to target care and protection depending on the individual needs of the child, with a specific focus on early identification of victims of trafficking and abuse
    • training on good practices to prevent disappearance (e.g. child friendly communication, building of trust with the child, etc.).
    • training on identifying the best interests of the child
    • training for law enforcement to ensure that all cases of missing unaccompanied children trigger appropriate responses[3]
    1. Better information for children: children should be empowered to participate in all decisions related to their situation and to recognise if they have been victims of trafficking or abuse. Providing clear information to children, tailored on their ability to understand (age-friendly, in the language that they speak…) is essential for them to trust our systems and to allow them to make informed decisions about their future.
    1. Identifying and implementing durable solutions for unaccompanied children: The ultimate aim in addressing the fate of unaccompanied or separated children is to identify a durable solution that addresses all their protection needs, takes into account the child’s view and, wherever possible, leads to overcoming the situation of a child being unaccompanied or separated[4]. The identification and implementation of durable solutions for each child should be initiated and implemented without undue delay and should ensure that every child is able to develop into adulthood, in an environment which will meet his or her needs and fulfil his or her rights as defined by the CRC and will not put the child at risk of persecution or serious harm. Decisions will be based on a thorough assessment of the best interests of the child, because the durable solution will have fundamental long-term consequences for the unaccompanied or separated child.
    1. More efficient international cooperation, including in the application of protection and Dublin procedures:
    • Applications for international protection of unaccompanied children should be treated with priority
    • Children should be able to apply for asylum in the country where they are, without being transferred to other countries which they transited.
    • Requests for family reunification involving unaccompanied children should be prioritised. Family reunification procedures should be explained clearly to the child in all their steps. Member States have a duty, under the Dublin Regulation, to proactively trace the family members, siblings and relatives of a child. To assist in ensuring swift family reunion and thus also reduce disappearance of children during such procedures, Member States should closely cooperate with each other in conducting family tracing and in the verification of family links. To this end, liaison officers, common templates, guidance as well as Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) should be in place for enhancing cooperation between Member States as well as to ensure participation of all relevant actors. A common understanding between Member States and consequent smooth functioning of Dublin procedures for swift family reunion is in the interest of children and Member States alike.
    1. Better cross border cooperation in responding to disappearances, by raising awareness on existing reporting tools and cooperation mechanisms to address the phenomenon of missing unaccompanied children and enhancing, and enhancing the capacity of existing networks with expertise and experience in the protection of vulnerable children, including the network of hotlines for missing children[5]. These networks can provide a continuum of protection, care and support for all children on the move involved in cross-border migration, regardless of their legal status, whether in forced displacement or voluntary, and through all stages of their migration journey. Such systems should ensure that children have access to the full range of rights they are entitled to in accordance with the European and international law wherever they are. Information sharing between NGOs and national child protection systems has to be effectively channelled by the establishment of cross-border case management services or similar systems.

     

    [1] See
    [2] From the conclusions of the 10th Forum on the rights of the child.
    [3] From the conclusions of the 10th Forum on the rights of the child.
    [4] See General Comment No 6 on Treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin
    [5] From the Conclusions of the 10th Forum on the rights of the child.

    Additional policy recommendations

    1. The European Commission principles on integrated child protection systems should be at the heart of the comprehensive strategy on children in migration expected from the Commission.
    2. The EP voted in favour of the right for a child to apply for asylum in the country where he or she is, without being transferred back to the first country of arrival. The system expected to replace the current Dublin Regulation should maintain this principle, as unnecessary transfers under the Dublin Regulation add trauma for an already vulnerable child, and often constitute a push factor to go missing. In addition, a revision of the definition of family should be considered. 
    3. The SIS System should be adapted to managing cases of missing migrant children across national borders. It may provide searchable fingerprints in SIS II - provided that data protection and security safeguards for the IT-system are in place. Any data on children should be used exclusively for the sake of protection, never in the aim to manage migration or return children. Necessary child protection safeguards in this respect should be included in the expected implementing regulations.
    4. Member States should highlight the good practices and interagency cooperation efforts developed at local level to prevent and respond to missing children in migration and foster their implementation consistently within the country.


Epim - Never alone

This conference has been supported by the Fund ‘Never Alone – Building our future with children and youth arriving in Europe’ of the European Programme for Integration and Migration (EPIM), a collaborative initiative of the Network of European Foundations (NEF). The sole responsibility for the conference lies with the organiser(s) and the content may not necessarily reflect the positions of EPIM, NEF or the Foundations contributing to the Fund.



Programme of the European Union

With financial support from the "Rights, Equality and Citizenship 2014-2020" Programme of the European Union