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'Children in crisis' - we are failing unaccompanied child migrants in the EU says lords report

Unaccompanied migrant children are being systematically let down by the EU and its Member States, including the UK, says a Lords report published today.

They are being treated with suspicion and detained in squalid conditions, while Member States shirk their responsibility to care for them as children, according to the Lords EU Committee report Children in Crisis: unaccompanied migrant children in the EU. The report highlights in particular the failure by Member States to fully implement existing EU measures intended to protect these children.

This treatment has led unaccompanied migrant children to lose faith in national authorities, with many being driven into the hands of people smugglers and traffickers. As a result, the number of child migrants who have gone missing across Europe is now estimated to be more than 10,000.

The report shows that there is a reluctance among Member States to share the burden of caring for tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children. The report urges the UK Government to take its fair share and not to treat unaccompanied migrant children as ‘somebody else's problem'.

Evidence submitted to the inquiry highlights a lack of burden-sharing between local authorities in the UK, with one authority caring for 412 unaccompanied migrant children, while many others have none in their care. A full table of regional and London-wide distribution of unaccompanied migrant children, submitted as evidence, can be found here.

The report calls for the establishment of an independent guardianship scheme, at EU and UK level, introducing minimum standards to ensure that decisions are taken in the best interests of migrant children. Such a scheme exists in Scotland, but the Committee calls on the Government to set up a similar scheme in England and Wales.

Chairman of the Committee, Baroness Prashar, said:

“The current refugee crisis is the greatest humanitarian challenge the EU has faced in its lifetime. At the sharp end of this crisis are unaccompanied migrant children, who are being failed across the board.

“We found that these children face suspicion on arrival. They are seen as ‘somebody else's problem', and the conditions they live in were described to us as deplorable and squalid.

“We found a clear failure among EU countries, including the UK, to shoulder their fair share of the burden. We deeply regret the UK Government's reluctance to relocate migrant children to the UK, in particular those living in terrible conditions in the camps near the channel ports.

“It is particularly shocking that so many unaccompanied child migrants are falling out of the system altogether and going missing. How can Member States, including the UK, tolerate a situation where there are more than 10,000 missing migrant children in the EU?

“We urge the EU institutions and the UK Government to address these complex problems urgently. At the end of the day, unaccompanied child migrants are children, first and foremost, and we need to work together to care for them in a decent and humane way.”

Key findings

The report highlighted four underlying problems faced by unaccompanied migrant children.

Lack of solidarity
Member States across the EU are failing to share the burden collectively and very little progress has been made in relocating unaccompanied child migrants.

Unfinished business
The Committee found that the implementation of existing measures to protect these children has been poor, and that the Commission's Action Plan which ended in 2014 has not been renewed. It concludes that this lack of action is leading to an increased vulnerability of unaccompanied children to smugglers, traffickers and organised crime.

A culture of disbelief
Unaccompanied migrant children are often not believed and treated with a level of suspicion, with age disputes often adversely affecting their treatment and their well-being.

Lack of trust
Children display a lack of trust in the authorities, and in some cases resort to drastic measures to avoid cooperating with them.


Durable solutions
The report concludes that there must be stronger focus, across the EU and in the UK, on developing durable solutions. This focus must retain the principle of prioritising the child's best interests at its core.

A system of independent guardians, appointed as soon as possible to act in the child's best interests, should be established across the EU and the UK.

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