What is migration? What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “immigrant”? Migration is such a broad word, that sometimes it can lose all meaning.
We tend to group migrants together, but the truth is that behind them there are thousands of stories yet to be told, especially the ones of those who don’t come from certain backgrounds such as what we would call, privileged. This post will be a first approach to a specific type of migration, the journey of those who MUST be protected: MINORS.
There are different kind of migrants with, of course, diverse backgrounds, origins, incentives to abandon their countries, etc. But somehow, the general image of an immigrant tends to be the one of a male adult usually coming from Africa. That’s why is important to raise awareness about the different situations of migrants and the need to highlight those unheard voices.
During the World Summit for Children, UNICEF, in 1990 it was said:
“There is no cause that deserves higher priority than the protection and development of the child, on whom depends the survival, stability and progress of all nations and, indeed, of human civilization.”
According to that statement, infancy should be protected, with independence of the circumstances that surrounds those minors. Problems begin when minors are crossing borders alone and in an “irregular” way. In these situations, unaccompanied minors face inevitable barriers with their hybrid identities, as both illegal aliens and children.
The main issue here, is that there is a whole international protection system that should be there to support them, but at the same time this idea is crashing with the general consideration of how to handle irregular migration.
Is important to keep in mind that these children who are facing irregular migration situations, are at risk. They are mostly exposed to both organized crime and violence, and even violence perpetrated by the authorities working in the borders. Being unaccompanied makes them even more vulnerable, and different countries should take measures to protect these unaccompanied or asylum-seeking children. The United Nations World Summit for Children says that children who migrate alone should be protected but does not dictate what kind of protection method should be followed.
In fact, the European Union has not yet established a common framework for action. There are simply certain legal instruments that do not have direct legal effect. The most common response to the arrival of the unaccompanied minors, is their transfer to common centres, although again depending on the country, there will be distinctions.
In Belgium, there is a specialized protection system in place for children, that will be different from that of minors who were born in the country or children who do not migrate autonomously. The Lisbon Treaty and its Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, was an attempt to move towards unification in Europe. This then to the development of an Action Plan that was approved by the Commission in 2010.
Unfortunately, it still failed to provide the required protection for these children. It is necessary to create a common framework of action for the well-being of children. A framework would notice incorrect procedures and ensure the safety of the unaccompanied minors.
Written by Marta, our long term ESC Volunteer