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European Commission - Fact Sheet

Questions & Answers: Protecting of children in migration

Brussels, 12 April 2017


Why a Communication on the protection of children in migration?

According to UNICEF, there are 50 million children in migration worldwide. One in every 200 children is a refugee. In recent years, the number of children in migration arriving in the European Union has increased dramatically: in 2015 and 2016, 30 percent of asylum applicants in the European Union were children.There has been a six-fold increase in the total number of child asylum applicants in the last six years. In 2015, more than 96 000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the EU (see figures in annex). In 2016, the figure was over 56,000.

Children in migration are particularly vulnerable. They are exposed to risks of becoming victims of violence, physical or sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking. Many of them go missing or are separated from their families during the migration journey. They require specific and appropriate protection.

Protecting all children arriving to Europe, regardless of their status and at all stages of migration, is about upholding EU fundamental values of respect for human rights and dignity, openness and solidarity. It is also about enforcing European Union law, and respecting the Charter of Fundamental Rights and international law, including the UN Convention on the rights of the child.

How do you define ‘children in migration'?

Children in migration are all non-Europeans below 18 years who are displaced or travel to and within the EU territory, whether unaccompanied, separated from their families, or travelling with their parents. Many of these children seek international protection and some are undocumented migrant children. All children in migration are vulnerable and in need of protection. The child's best interests must be a primary consideration in all actions or decisions that concern them. The Communication sets out actions that concern the protection of all children in migration.

How does EU law protect children in migration?

EU asylum and migration law includes provisions on child protection (see details). EU asylum law contains strong safeguards for children who seek international protection in Europe, recognising children as applicants for international protection in their own right and sets some procedural safeguards and protection measures. The Common European Asylum System (CEAS) provides, for example, for the appointment of a guardian for all unaccompanied children, and the tracing of family members to restore family links as soon as possible, as well as adapted reception for children and unaccompanied children. Migration legislation, such as the Family Reunification Directive, the Return Directive and the legislation on the Schengen Information System include specific safeguards for children and unaccompanied children. The recently adopted Regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard strengthens child protection aspects to ensure that the best interests of the child are respected.

The Commission will continue to ensure close monitoring of the implementation of the safeguards in EU legislations related to the rights of the child.

The Commission has also proposed to reinforce guarantees and safeguards for children in its proposals to reform the Common European Asylum System, including the further reinforcement of guardianship systems in Member States, assessment and determination of the best interests of the child, the definition of family, the criteria for obtaining international protection and quicker access to education.

How does EU funding support the protection of child migrants?

The European Commission provides funding and grants through various programmes, both specifically for children in migration and as part of the EU's funding on migration, justice systems, education or prevention of violence against women and children, health, humanitarian aid and protection programmes for children inside and outside the EU.

For example, the Commission recently awarded direct grants to the International Organisation on Migration, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children to strengthen protection responses for children in migration. The Commission has also made €3 million available for projects on capacity-building in guardianship and foster care for unaccompanied children.

EU Agencies such as the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency provide operational support to Member States, through training and staff deployment. The European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has collected data on fundamental rights aspects.

The Commission regularly compiles data andreports on children in migrationand issues guidance. For instance, the European Asylum Support Office and the Fundamental Rights Agency have developed guidance on age assessment, family tracing, reception conditions and guardianship. See also the Schengen Handbook, which guides border guards on how to treat children when they cross an external border.

What does the Communication focus on as a priority?

The Communication sets out actions addressing the protection gaps children face once they reach EU territory as well as an overview of the actions taken externally.

The main areas of focus of the Communication are:

  • Addressing root causes and protecting children along migrant routes: Children embark on dangerous journeys to Europe because of conflicts, forced displacements, inequalities or limited economic opportunities.  

The Communication sets out a number of actions to address the root causes of migration, including:

  • support the development of integrated child protection systems in third countries;
  • support projects targeting the protection of unaccompanied children along migratory routes in third countries, in particular to prevent child trafficking or smuggling.
  • Swift and comprehensive identification and protection: Upon arrival in the EU, children are not always identified and registered as children and individual vulnerabilities and special protection needs are not systematically assessed. Family tracing and family reunification procedures are often not carried out or start too late.

With the support of the Commission and the EU Agencies, Member States are encouraged to:

  • collect and exchange data to facilitate cross-border tracing of missing children and verification of family links;
  • ensure that a person responsible for child protection is present at the identification and registration stage and that child protection officers are appointed in each hotspot;
  • put in place procedures to systematically report all cases of children going missing to all authorities.
  • Adequate reception in the EU: Some reception facilities where children find first shelter are inadequate and unsafe. Staff may not be qualified or trained and reception conditions may not be monitored. Individual needs assessments may not be adequately carried out. Everything possible must be done to ensure the availability and accessibility of suitable and safe reception conditions.

With the support of the Commission and the EU Agencies, Member States are encouraged to:

  • ensure that all children have access within the shortest timeframe possible to healthcare (including preventive care) and psychosocial support, as well as to inclusive formal education, regardless of the status of the child;
  • ensure that a range of alternative care options for unaccompanied children, including foster/family-based care are provided;
  • integrate child protection policies in all reception facilities which host children, including by appointing a person responsible for child protection;
  • ensure that an appropriate and effective monitoring system is in place for the reception of children in migration.  
  • Swift status determination and effective guardianship systems: To ensure appropriate safeguards for all children present in the EU, including at all stages of the asylum and return procedure, a number of key protection measures need to be stepped-up, including as regards access to information, legal representation and guardianship, and the right to an effective remedy.

In 2017, the Commission and the EU agencies will:

  • establish a European guardianship network, to develop and exchange good practices and guidance
  • update EASO's guidance on age assessment.

With the support of the Commission and the EU Agencies, Member States are encouraged to:

  • ensure that guardians for all unaccompanied minors are swiftly in place and implement reliable and non-invasive age-assessment procedures
  • give priority to processing cases concerning children, especially asylum applications, and to children relocating from Greece and Italy.
  • Ensuring durable solutions: For unaccompanied children it is essential to identify a durable solution that addresses all their protection needs. The best interests of the child have to be at the centre of all actions and decisions concerning his or her future.

In 2017, the Commission will:

  • further promote the integration of children through funding and exchange of good practices.

Member States are encouraged to:

  • ensure access to inclusive formal education as soon as possible after arrival and develop targeted programmes to that matter, foster social inclusion for example through mixed, non-segregated housing;
  • increase resettlement of children in need of protection to Europe;
  • ensure appropriate family tracing and reintegration measures for children who will be returned to their country of origin.
  • Cross-cutting actions: Gaps and shortcomings exist on the effective use of data, research, training and funding as well as the exchange of best practices.

In 2017, the Commission and the EU agencies will:

  • provide additional training, guidance and tools on best interests of the child assessments;
  • work on improving EU-level data collection relating to children in migration;
  • require that organisations in direct contact with children have internal child protection policies in place to be granted EU funding.

Member States are encouraged to:

  • ensure that all those working with children in migration are appropriately trained and child protection professionals are involved where relevant;
  • prioritise children in migration under EU migration funding programmes managed by national authorities;
  • enhance data collection on children in migration.    

For more information

Press release: Protecting all children in migration: Commission outlines priority actions

Factsheet – Actions for the protection of children in migration

Children in migration compilation of data

Eurostat – Asylum and managed migration database

EU funding to protect children in migration

10th Forum on rights of the child

Children in migration




Source: Eurostat


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