Increased protection of unaccompanied minors entering the EU

The European Commission adopted today an Action Plan to increase the protection of unaccompanied minors entering the EU, encompassing common standards for guardianship and legal representation. The aim of the Plan is to create a common European approach to make sure that a decision on the future of each unaccompanied minor is taken by the competent authorities as soon as possible, preferably within six months.

Data from Eurostat indicate that in 2009, 10 960 unaccompanied minors lodged applications for asylum in 22 Member States (excluding Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Poland and Romania), which represents an increase of 13% compared to 2008 when there were 9 695 asylum applications.

The reasons behind the arrival of unaccompanied minors varies. Unaccompanied minors escape from wars and conflicts, poverty or natural catastrophes, discrimination or persecution. They are sent by their families in the expectation of a better life, of being able to support their families back home, or in an attempt to join other family members already in the EU. Some are victims of human trafficking. The Action Plan proposes an EU approach based on three main strands for action: prevention of unsafe migration and trafficking, reception and procedural guarantees in the EU and identification of durable solutions.

The Action Plan is based on the following ten principles:

  1. All children should be treated first and foremost as children. The best interests of the child should be the primary consideration in all actions concerning unaccompanied minors.
  2. All children should be treated in accordance with the rules and principles followed in the European Union and its Member States, in particular the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights.
  3. All possible efforts should be made to create an environment allowing children to grow up in their countries of origin with good prospects for personal development and decent standards of living.
  4. Children should be protected from traffickers and criminal groups and other forms of violence or exploitation.
  5. Every effort should be made to find the family of the child and to reunite the child with his or her family provided that this is in the best interest of the child.
  6. Child-specific reception measures and procedural guarantees should apply from the moment the child is found at the external border or within a Member State until a durable solution is found. Guardianship and legal representation of the child are of crucial importance.
  7. A decision on the future of each child should be taken within the shortest possible period, preferably within six months.
  8. Unaccompanied minors should always be placed in appropriate accommodation and treated in a manner that is fully compatible with their best interests. Where detention is exceptionally justified, it is to be used only as a measure of last resort, for the shortest appropriate period of time and taking into account the best interests of the child as a primary consideration.
  9. Durable solutions should be determined on the basis of an individual assessment of the best interests of the child. They should consist of return to the country of origin where reintegration of the child should be guaranteed, granting international protection status or another legal status allowing the child to integrate in the Member State of residence, or resettlement in the European
  10. All interested parties – EU institutions, Member States, countries of origin and transit, international organisations and civil society organisations – should join forces and strengthen their efforts in addressing the issue of unaccompanied minors and ensuring that the best interest of the child is protected.