Study reveals greater difficulties for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum
On Monday, March 5th, GMF Brussels hosted the presentation of the Harvard Study by Jaqueline Bhabha "Seeking Asylum Alone" on the asylum procedures for unaccompanied minors (UAM) in the U.S., the UK and Australia. The U.S. findings were presented in Washington last October and this follow up meeting put the topic into a European framework and engaged more than 50 policymakers, representatives from NGO's, researchers and lawyers in a transatlantic exchange.
Even though the number of UAMs in the EU seeking Asylum is relatively low (usually around 4-5% of all asylum seekers) as is the number of children who actually are granted asylum (e.g. in the UK, 98% of asylum requests of UAMs were declined in 2004), the number of UAMs seeking asylum is nevertheless not trivial and little has been done to consider the "best interest" of children in the overall asylum process in practice. In theory, the EU legislative framework, as laid out by Annick Goeminne of the European Commission, does provide immigration and asylum instruments with directives that consider the special situation of UAMs, but in practice "it all goes wrong, terribly wrong" as Terry Smith of Save the Children stated. Children are still put into detention centers, and exposed to imprecise methods to measure their age and they are still interviewed and treated by unqualified personal (e.g. border personnel) without proper access to legal assistance nor educational systems, the presentations stated. An alarming number of children also "go missing" throuthout the asylum process and the problem of disappearences is rising and worrisome as they might be victims of trafficking, further research is needed to shed light on this phenomenon.
Participants were eager to exchange best practices and brainstorm about further research areas and funding possibilities with the EU and the discussion will continue. Major research still needs to be undertaken, first and foremost accurate data needs to be collected on the number of UAMs, on the number of unaccompanied children who don't file asylum and the number of children who appeal negative asylum decisions. Without accurate and comparable data it is not possible to develop further policy recommendations. More research is also needed to find out exactly what is happening to children at borders, at airports etc. and to track the outcomes of what happens to children after first instance rejections of the asylum plea. Last but not least, it is of vital importance to find a way to monitor the implementation of EU directives.
The event was orchestrated by GMF's Immigration and Integration Key Institution ISIM at Georgetown, represented by Andy Schoenholtz, in collaboration with Jaqueline Bhabha from Human Rights at Harvard and with further support by UNHCR, Separated Children in Europe Programme and Save the Children.