First meeting of the Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child (CDENF)

Strasbourg 4 February 2020
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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the invitation to join you at this meeting of the new Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child. It is your first plenary meeting. And it is also my first exchange with an intergovernmental body since taking up duties as the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees in mid-January 2020.

Before proceeding to the actual exchange, I would like to use this opportunity:

  • to introduce myself to the committee,
  • to briefly take stock of the main achievements of the Action Plan on protecting refugee and migrant children, and
  • to present my mandate, priorities and vision on next steps.

I am a career diplomat with a legal background in public international law. Representing my country at the United Nations for many years, brought me closer to human rights and to children’s rights. I was honoured to chair the working group which lead to the Third Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the rights of the child. We did not think back in 2009-2011 that the jurisprudence of the UN CRC committee will focus so much on migration cases. It is impressive to see that 61 out of 75 cases pending before the committee today concern migration issues (including non-refoulement, age determination, administrative detention of migrant children, separation of children from parents, family reunification, and access to asylum proceedings).

Human rights were also at the heart of my work as the Slovak Ambassador to the Council of Europe, especially during my chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers’ Rapporteur Group on Human Rights. After 4 years as Ambassador, in 2017 I headed the Council of Europe Office in Sarajevo. This field position allowed me to see migration challenges in the region through the eyes of the local population, not only through written reports. I took up the mandate of the Special Representative with the determination to continue the good work Council of Europe has managed to achieve so far.

This takes me to the next point: taking stock of the results of the Action Plan on protecting refugee and migrant children in Europe. It was launched in 2017 and was completed just before my arrival in post in December 2019. The objectives of the Action Plan have been largely attained.

With the Action Plan our organisation has gained considerable visibility in the field of migration and, in particular, of the protection of refugee and migrant children. Its added value, constructive and pragmatic input has enhanced the partnership of the Council of Europe with relevant international organisations.

Among main achievements may be cited Committee of Ministers recommendations, practical guidance and dissemination of good practices. For policy-makers, the results of the Action Plan provided guidance and examples on how to achieve the effective protection of refugee and migrant children. For professionals – the knowledge how to use a child‑friendly approach in their migration-related work involving children.

I am informed about the important contribution the predecessor of this committee, the Ad hoc committee for the rights of the child (the CAHENF), and the Children’s rights division have had to the success of the Action Plan. Let me use this opportunity to commend you on the successful development and adoption by the Committee of Ministers in December 2019 of the Recommendation on effective guardianship for unaccompanied and separated children in the context of migration. Guardianship is the cornerstone for effective protection of refugee and migrant children. I am glad to see that the Committee of Ministers endorsed guiding and implementing principles to help translate general provisions into laws, policies, budgetary allocations in order to secure effective protection for children through guardianship. The presentation last week in the PACE Migration committee by Lora Pappa from Metadrasi in Greece only reconfirmed how central is the role of effective guardians when it comes to children being able to access basic rights such as shelter, food and healthcare, not only access to asylum and family reunification.

I am informed that this Committee will pursue the work on age-assessment guidelines. In light of the pending cases before the European Court of Human Rights but also before the UNCRC Committee, I encourage the human rights approach of the current draft guidelines pending consultations. There seems to be a consensus among member states on the need to build strong safeguards when conducting age assessment. And I wish you success in developing further the modalities of how this could be ensured.

I am also looking forward on your review of how member states have implemented the Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)9 on life projects for unaccompanied migrant minors. I curious to see how this tool could be used to accompany children to an adult life in dignity and autonomy.

In addition to CAHENF efforts, I would like also to commend the development by the Children’s rights division of the Handbook for frontline professionals on how to convey child-friendly information to children in migration. Also the Guide on monitoring places where children could be detailed, developed together with PACE.

To complement this effort, the Office of the Special Representative launched, in December 2019, the compilation of child-friendly approaches in the area of migration, which is distributed here today for your reference. The compilation summarizes international and European standards on child-friendly processes in the context of migration. It also illustrates from practice various initiatives and procedures that implement these standards. It is structured in four comprehensive themes: entrance and identification, child-friendly asylum and migration processes, special protection measures, and durable solutions.

Equally important is another publication developed by my office – the handbook “Family reunification for refugee and migrant children”, completed in November 2019, pending publication this February. It offers an overview of principles of human rights, children’s rights and refugee law relevant to family reunification. And also lists a series noteworthy practices grouped thematically.

Among other key achievements of the Action Plan could be mentioned:

  • the Committee of Ministers of the Recommendation CM/Rec(2019)4 on supporting young refugees in transition to adulthood, developed by the youth sector,
  • the Practical Guidance on alternatives to immigration detention;
  • the development and launch of the HELP course on refugee and migrant children in Spain, Greece, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Italy, France;
  • The continued work of the Lanzarote Committee,
  • the ongoing monitoring by GRETA,
  • the work of CDPC on fostering international cooperation to suppress smuggling,
  • the successful implementation of the European Qualification Passport for Refugees.

For a detailed discussion, I would encourage to see the final report on the implementation of the Action Plan, which I will present in the Committee of Ministers of 26 February 2020. An update of the Action Plan webpage will include the links to all deliverables.

The final report also opens the floor for a discussion in the Committee of Ministers on the way forward. Without pre-empting any discussion and decision on 26 February 2020, I see that the work on the protection of refugee and migrant children is not exhausted. Moreover, the situation of children requires further concerted action, and this is not a time to stop our work. On the contrary, the protection of all children is among the priorities of our Secretary General and as her Special Representative I intend to keep a close eye and an open heart for refugee and migrant children.

I am starting my mandate against a backdrop which is very different from my predecessor’s in 2016. The overall drop in arrival figures in 2018 and 2019 may have decreased the public pressure. At the same time, unaccompanied children continue arriving, and our systems are still struggling. Just last week more boats arrived in Italy carrying over 130 unaccompanied children some aged between 11-13.

What was deemed as an emergency in 2017 is seen now more as an ongoing challenge. More member states of the Council of Europe are concerned by such challenges than in 2016-17. The conditions of stay in many parts of Europe over time have become harsher and there is increasing focus on returns. At the same time, there are already first lessons learned and certainly also promising examples.

In this context, my mandate is

  • to carry out factfinding missions,
  • to collect information on human rights situation of refugees and migrants and
  • to advise the Secretary General on possible action to be undertaken by the Organisation.

I will also pursue further co-operation with the European Union and with the United Nations. I am here to help promote the results of the entire organisation. I am here to foster partnerships in the field of migration cross-cutting different sectors when exchanging with member states and with other international organisations. I am very open and available to engage. You are very much invited to take advantage of my role and mandate. And I am looking forward to the results of your work and expertise.

Thank you once again for your invitation and for your attention!

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