Moving forward towards the protection of unaccompanied minors

On September 21, the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers of the EU agreed on the usefulness of “developing common approaches and greater cooperation with the countries of origin, including facilitating minors’ return”. They will have to provide protection for unaccompanied minors in the context of combating trafficking in human beings.

The 27 ministers therefore asked the European Commission to draw up an action plan on unaccompanied minors for early 2010, with the best interests of the children concerned as the guiding principle. The Council discussed the subject of unaccompanied minors coming to and seeking asylum within the European Union.

The European Commission has decided to tackle this issue given the steep increase of the phenomenon. The issue is even more controversial for those unaccompanied minors who do not apply for asylum status and thus are not protected by the Community directives in this domain (Directive 2004/83/CE) (COM(2004) 410) (COM(2003) 315 final) (COM(2003)152 final) (COM(2002) 703 final) (COM(2000) 755 final).

The European Union, with a Resolution of the European Council of 26 June 1997 on unaccompanied minors who are nationals of third countries established a series of guidelines for the treatment of unaccompanied minors, with regard to matters such as the conditions for their reception, stay and return and, in the case of asylum seekers, the handling of applicable procedures. However, the debate on how to deal with minors reaching EU borders is still open. For instance, in an article by Elise Barthet published in Le Monde on 23 October 2009, the issue was raised following the clearing of the makeshift camps commonly known as ‘the jungle”, where some 1,500 migrants were living in insanitary settlements in Calais and neighbouring areas. Among the 276 migrants that were interviewed, 135 declared themselves unaccompanied minors.

The Commission acknolodged the fact that such a problem does not concern only France and it thus expressed its consent to a coordinated approach at the European level guided by a solidarity spirit and aimed at exclusively protecting unaccompanied minors’ rights.

Ministers confirmed that this subject represents an important challenge for Member States and raises issues of common concern. Thus, it has been agreed that all Member States should develop common approaches and increased cooperation with countries of origin, including cooperation to facilitate minors’ return, the tracking of their families and their protection from human trafficking.  

To reach a better cooperation and elaboration of common strategies, ministers of the relevant Council preparatory bodies, as well as the Commission, have been invited to take forward work already underway in order to get the most complete picture possible. However, this initiative is still at the initial stages given that Ministers have requested the Commission to present the action plan on unaccompanied minors by the beginning of 2010 on the basis of the European Commission’s Communication entitled “An area of freedom, security and justice serving the citizen” (COM (2009) 262 final) where there is a clear reference to the EU’s intention to pay

 “[…]Particular attention […] to the situation of vulnerable people and groups. In this regard, priority will be given to the needs of international protection and reception of unaccompanied minors. This action plan should complete the legislative and financial instruments necessary to coordinate the activities aiming at a real integration and associate them with measures of protection of minors’ rights as well as prevention of abuses.”

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