Posted Jul 10, 2018

Learnings from West Africa

Countries must work together to ensure children on the move are treated as children with rights and don’t fall through any gaps in protection when they migrate.

Olivier Geissler, from Destination Unknown member International Social Service, explains the importance of cross border collaboration to ensure children on the move are treated as children with rights and don’t fall through any gaps in protection when they migrate, and to help find sustainable solutions in their best interests.

It’s 2018. We can trace the status of a package being sent from one remote location to another, even across borders and keeping the quality of it. But we cannot guarantee that the rights of a child crossing a border will be protected.

Standards of care may vary greatly between countries, but children’s needs remain the same. Effective cross-border coordination and cooperation between national child protection services in different countries is needed to ensure children on the move are protected and able to access to key services throughout.

The international system has the necessary legal and institutional arrangements but two important factors are missing which are crucial to truly protect children on the move. Firstly, a shift in thinking which puts children’s welfare above migration management concerns and seeks to work with the child to find sustainable solutions, and secondly, a transnational process that brings everyone involved together.


What are sustainable solutions?

A sustainable solution is when a child can integrate or reintegrate into a safe environment and develop stable relationships and decent prospects for the future.

Support for children on the move is often limited to contingency support. This is not enough. A more holistic approach is needed based on the child’s personal story. It should not only ensure the child’s immediate protection, but also guarantee the child can go to school, have social relationships, access education and contribute to society.

The key to sustainable solutions for children on the move is to link up different actors to ensure a continuum of care nationally and transnationally and for all these actors to have the same understanding of the needs and rights of the child.


Why is transnational collaboration so important?

Countries must work together to ensure children move safely from one protection system to another and receive continuous care. Transnational collaboration – not only between ministries, but also between practitioners – is crucial. It is needed for evaluating the child’s situation in the country of origin or in the country they move to, tracing family and identifying suitable carers, and evaluating the socio-economic and political situation in the country the child is coming from.


How do we know this works?

West Africa has a transnational process for collaboration and ensuring sustainable solutions, which is an example for the rest of the world. Known as the ECOWAS model, it is recognised by national and regional authorities. It links up relevant actors, is based on evidence and shared documentation and has helped more than 7,000 children.

A continuum of services are delivered across the region using an eight-step procedure – from the identification of a vulnerable child and provision of emergency care to ensuring their successful social re-integration.

In 2017, the ISS published an international version of this eight-step procedure, which can be applied in other contexts throughout the world as a foundation for effective intervention and re-integration for children and young people on the move.

The example set in West Africa shows that with political will, coordination of actors and a common procedure based on quality care, it is possible to ensure a continuum of protection across borders and find sustainable solutions for children on the move.

World leaders are about to adopt global agreements on migration and refugees, which include commitments for cross border collaboration and finding sustainable solutions. The guiding principles and best practices exist. Now world leaders should work on how to make it happen on the ground and as a priority for the most vulnerable people in our society – children.


This article is based on an intervention by Olivier Geissler at a workshop on Children and Youth on the Move as part of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), which was also attended by Destination Unknown Members from Europe and Lebanon.

The International Social Service is a network of governmental and non-governmental actors working with and for children on the move in over a hundred countries.

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