According to an article that was published in the New York Times last October, in 2014 there were twenty-three thousand unaccompanied children who applied for asylum in the twenty-three member countries of the European Union. In a different article, however, Jacqueline Bhabha indicates that the children who apply for asylum are only the “lucky ones,” because they are the few who receive legal advice. (Bhabha, J., Independent Children, Inconsistent Adults: International child migration and the legal framework; No. indipa08/3).
Thus, the numbers of unaccompanied migrant minors is growing. How should the welcoming states address this problem? Are they protecting the fundamental rights of migrant children?
These children, as the above mentioned author says, are distinctively vulnerable. She describes their situation as a “triple burden of alienage, minority and family separation.” But where there is vulnerability, there should also be protection: a comprehensive protection, that should address each one of these burdens. In addition, since this problem is of international concern an international response should be given. As members of the International Community, the welcoming states should make secure that all human rights are recognized for these children.
Bhabha, however, shows that the rights granted by International Treaties are often impossible to grant to these children. The right to education, for instance, is often impaired by the fact that many schools refuse to enroll minors who lack documentation. For instance, the enjoyment of the right to health care encounters problems whenever the doctors discover that these children have no health insurance, and refuse to treat them… And the list continues.
As for the burden of alienage, very little recognition is given to the problems these children faced which forced them to migrate. Too often, they have hazardous stories, which have consequences on the migrating child. The sufferings of these children has consequences, and that adds to their vulnerability.
With reference to the burden of family separation, Bhabha points out that the right to family unity, guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is often denied to these children. This guaranteed right is incompatible with many immigration laws, which do not grant the child the right to be joined by the rest of his/her family.
Unaccompanied migrant children commonly end up working in the country to which they migrated, very often under exploitative conditions. They usually accept these conditions to earn some money for their families, and because they need to stay away from the authorities, which may detect them as illegal migrants. The informal and clandestine nature of their work makes it easier for the employers to violate the rights of the children. In addition, the internationally agreed labor legislation which could protect these children has found very weak implementation, or has not been ratified by the states.
According to Bhabha, unaccompanied migrant children need deeper and stronger protection.
How could one not agree? As her article—and many more—reveal, the existing laws should be corrected in ways that make the protections proclaimed by international law an effective reality.
The welcoming states should address the causes of migration and take real care of these children. Their duty is to protect their fundamental rights, not to lead statistics on asylum numbers