Children and migration
Protecting the rights of migrant and refugee children is a key priority of the Council of Europe, and an area particularly targeted for action in its Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2016-2021) and the Secretary General's proposal for priority actions (4 March 2016).
As stated in the Strategy, “children on the move, or otherwise affected by migration, remain one of the most vulnerable groups in Europe today”. Giving focus to the precarious situation of unaccompanied children, it highlights that “migrant children at large, even when accompanied by parents, often suffer persistent violations of their human rights”. The purpose of the Strategy is to illustrate a series of important gaps and problems which result in children falling through the loopholes of child protection/frameworks and/or children’s rights being violated, all of which need to be addressed.
The Council of Europe’s Action Plan on protecting refugee and migrant children (2017-2019) was adopted by the 47 member States of the Organisation at the 127th Session of the Committee of Ministers in Nicosia, Cyprus, on the 19 May 2017.
Co-ordinated by the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees, Ambassador Tomáš Boček, the Action Plan addresses the primary concerns identified in the Thematic Report on migrant and refugee children.
The Action Plan focuses on three key pillars to ensure the better protection of children:
- Ensuring access to rights and child-friendly procedures.
- Providing effective protection.
- Enhancing the integration of children into host societies.
The Children’s Rights Division will carry out and support a number of the activities foreseen in the Action Plan, such as the development of new guidelines on age assessment and guardianship, a handbook on promoting child-friendly information, and training on child-friendly procedures.
The Committee of Ministers instructed the Ad hoc Committee for the Rights of the Child (CAHENF) (126th Session, May 2016), to propose further priority actions to ensure that special measures and safeguards are in place to protect unaccompanied and other children affected by the migrant and refugee crisis, in particular concerning standards on legal guardianship, age assessment and protective measures against trafficking in human beings.
In addition to the Parliamentary Assembly End Immigration Detention of Children Campaign, the targeted work of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees, and the Urgent monitoring round currently completed by the Lanzarote Committee on the protection of children affected by the refugee crisis from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, numerous other sectors of the Council of Europe have used their respective potential to contribute to the protection of the rights of the children affected by the crisis.
Drafting Group of Experts on Children’s Rights and Safeguards in the context of migration (CAHENF-Safeguards)
In September 2016, the CAHENF decided to establish the Drafting Group of Experts on Children’s Rights and Safeguards in the context of migration (CAHENF-Safeguards). CAHENF-Safeguards will develop standards on guardianship and on age assessment for adoption by CAHENF in 2018.
End Immigration Detention of Children Campaign
With large numbers of children arriving in Europe, fleeing instability, war, conflict and persecution, there is an imperative to ensure that their best interests are considered in the migration context in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect them from harm at all stages of immigration procedures.
When children are deprived of their liberty in a migration context, they are in a position of particular vulnerability, being at a higher risk of violence, abuse and acts of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Equally, they are at increased risk of suffering depression, anxiety, and from post-traumatic stress disorder. Even a short period of detention can compromise the psychological and physical well-being of the child.
The Children’s Rights Division is therefore carrying out work in co-operation with the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly as part of the End Immigration Detention of Children Campaign. This phase of the project will run from 01 October 2016 to 31 January 2018, and is supported through a voluntary contribution from the Government of Switzerland.
As part of this campaign, the Children’s Rights Division will work with the PACE to:
- Elaborate a training guide on monitoring places where children are deprived of their liberty as a result of immigration procedures.
- Elaborate a training programme for members of national parliaments and ombudspersons’ staff on monitoring places where children are deprived of their liberty as a result of immigration procedures.
- Identify examples of age assessment policies, procedures and practices respectful of children's rights to support the work of the Ad hoc Committee for the Rights of the Child of the Council of Europe (CAHENF) on standards regarding age assessment.
This work will further enhance co-operation between parliaments, ombudspersons, competent government bodies and civil service in addressing problems relating to immigration detention of children.
Special Representative on Migration and Refugees
The Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees is Ambassador Tomáš Boček. His Action Plan for 2017-2019 will be submitted to the Committee of Ministers in May 2017. Mr Boček is responsible for gathering information on the basic rights of migrants and refugees in Europe, including through fact-finding missions, and making proposals for action.
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