The current refugee crisis demands prompt responses from all relevant actors. We, the national coalitions for child protection members of ChildPact, call on all stakeholders, and commit ourselves to:
- address the needs of all children, including unaccompanied minors (UAM), who find themselves in an exceptionally vulnerable situation;
- highlight the fact, including in interactions with the media, that both asylum and non-asylum seeking unaccompanied minors are to be considered first and foremost as children, rather than migrants, and that the motivation of their journey is substantially irrelevant for the level of protection they should be accorded;
- work towards the development of inclusive national child protection systems that offer all of their services to all children involved in the current crisis;
- encourage positive coverage of the situation in both local and international media, by facilitating interviews with those who are directly active on the field;
- actively share information on the activities of local NGOs and volunteers, along those of established international NGOs and international agencies;
Attention should be drawn to both short and long-term needs of all children involved in the crisis. Given the exponential growth in the number of asylum-seeking migrants in the region, responding to immediate humanitarian needs has become a key priority for all actors involved, who had to work strenuously and in emergency conditions to support the most vulnerable. However, all relevant actors and stakeholders must think of long term solutions both for refugee children that have already arrived in Europe, and those that are expected to arrive in the future: UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, is currently preparing for numbers of arrivals in 2016 that may be as high or higher than in 2015. Key stakeholders should plan in advance in order to minimize the human and social costs for the most vulnerable.
Such initiatives should include a specific component of community mobilization and consultation with the refugee group, involving minors in the process, with an aim to respect the rights of children to express their opinion in matters that affect their life. Children should be given access to a translator, a social worker and legal support. Immediate efforts should be taken to develop a working mechanism that guarantees the timely appointment of guardians and/or legal representatives to unaccompanied minors in all countries of the region.
All countries involved should refrain from institutionalising unaccompanied minors, and rather establish a system of family-type centres and introduce mechanisms for family tracing and reunification.
Guidelines should be established to recognise unaccompanied minors who may be suffering maltreatment or be victim of exploitation. Education should be among the priorities, in particular for those children who have remained out of school for a long time.
Finally, considering that a significant part of unaccompanied minors arriving in the region are due to turn 18 within a few years, appropriate procedures should be established to facilitate their transition to adulthood.
Specific measures should be introduced, and formalised in standard protocols, to prevent the disappearance of unaccompanied minors from the facilities that host them: establishing a relationship of trust in the first 24 hours is considered fundamental to prevent that minors abandon relevant facilities, leaving them more exposed and vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.
All relevant agencies and organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, should enhance cooperation and communication, working together in the best interest of the child.