"Hear our voices" urge young migrants: meaningful participation is essential for effective child protection

Missing Children Europe and the (Maltese) President's Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society have just concluded the third edition of the Lost in Migration conference on the basis of which several concrete recommendations have been put together for the protection of children in migration.

According to the European Migration Network's report published in July 2018, more than 30,000 unaccompanied children went missing between 2014 and 2017. These children go missing because of poor conditions in some reception centres, lack of information on their rights and options, slow and complex procedures for protection, lack of training of professionals who work with or support children, and lack of coordination at national and cross-border level.

Aagje Ieven, Secretary General of Missing Children Europe said, “Europe is no longer dealing with an ‘emergency’ as the number of arrivals has dropped. It is now time to ensure that national asylum and child protection systems work, through compliance with existing asylum and human rights law. Europe must work to build long-term individual care plans with children themselves. In this way, children’s best interests are central in every decision impacting their future."

Inefficient cooperation between countries and the shortcomings of national asylum and child protection systems lead children to mistrust the systems currently in place. In response to the broken system, children are forced to rely on dangerous solutions to reunite with their families, have access to a better quality of life, or simply stay safe.

Human traffickers however have increasingly targeted children in migration, particularly when unaccompanied, confirmed Europol in a statement. In response, Missing Children Europe coordinates a cross-border project on children victims of trafficking, advocates for children’s rights through the Initiative for Children in Migration, and collects detailed data to monitor and raise awareness about the dangers faced by children in migration.

To reduce the risks to which children are exposed, high-level European, UN and African representatives, experts, frontline professionals and young advocates looked beyond Europe towards the child’s full migratory journey because protection must start as soon as a child leaves their home, at every stage of the journey.

Ruth Farrugia, Director General of the President's Foundation (Malta), therefore stressed the importance of looking into what happens to children before getting to Europe and the dangers to which they are increasingly exposed in third countries due to the intensification of migration control measures. Policy makers were asked to commit to their responsibilities in ensuring the rights of migrant children regardless of their status, in keeping with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The President's Foundation (Malta) will continue to create safe spaces for African and European NGOs and stakeholders to discuss practical solutions for the protection of children in migration.

Through a series of workshops, attendees developed key recommendations to improve the situation of children in migration. Some of the priorities that were highlighted included:

1. Changing the narrative and discourse around migration, especially children in migration, towards one of empathy, support and protection of human rights is needed
2. Children should have access to child friendly procedures and information, and be swiftly appointed a qualified, trained and independent  guardian
3. Children, including those in families, should never be detained for migration related reasons
4. Children should be supported to move safely from one country to another when it is in their best interest, for example in cases of family reunification
5. Data recording and management for children in migration including missing children and children at risk of trafficking should be done in a harmonised and systematic way

In light of these recommendations and ahead of the upcoming European elections, Missing Children Europe is launching a European campaign in March. The campaign will bring the concerns of youth participants from migration and refugee backgrounds, expressed at the conference, to campaigning Members of the European Parliament to ensure that policy and decision making corresponds with the issues children in migration face on the ground.

In closing, Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Malta, and Patron of Missing Children Europe, urged the delegates, "The participation of children and young people who have first hand experiences of migration continues to be essential, to give a more accurate perspective of what it means to be a migrating child, attempting to enter Europe, so as to address the gaps in our protection systems."

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