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child on the move – FARO project Italy. Photo credits: Terre des Hommes Italia – Andrea Frazzetta

Unaccompanied children are in the forefront of the refugee crisis: 88,245 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the EU in 2015, 3,133 unaccompanied migrant children arrived in Italy in May 2016 alone, at least 137 children have drowned in the Mediterranean since the start of 2016. These are the data provided by the report “Children in crisis: unaccompanied migrant children in the EU” of the European Union Committee of the House of Lords who carried out an inquiry to assess the nature and scale of the challenges they face across the EU.

According to the report, “a number of underlying, cross-cutting problems affect unaccompanied migrant children. They face a culture of disbelief and suspicion. Authorities try to avoid taking responsibility for their care and protection. Existing EU and national measures are poorly implemented. Unsurprisingly, many children have lost trust in the institutions and measures intended to guarantee their rights, safety and well-being”.

The outcomes are deplorable reception conditions, particularly in refugee camps, and prolonged uncertainty about children’s legal status who are left ‘living in limbo’.  As a result children are exposed to smugglers and human traffickers: at least 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children are currently estimated being missing in the EU.

To this end, the report calls to action the EU and its Member States, including the UK, and suggests a number of potential solutions: “ Integrated child protection systems, focused on the best interests of the child, should be adopted across the EU, ensuring that children are, first and foremost, treated as children, whatever their immigration status”. Additionally, data collection and sharing should be improved, collaboration between EU institutions, Member States, EU Agencies, regional and local authorities, NGOs and individual professionals should be ensured as well as a harmonised system of guardianship, training should be provided to professionals at all levels to ensure the full implementation of the existing measures in the best interests of children.

Download the report of the European Union Committee of the House of Lords: “Children in crisis: unaccompanied migrant children in the EU”

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