Child Migration Matters
Child migrants are one of the most vulnerable groups of children in Ireland. Whether in care, housed in Direct Provision centres while their parents await a decision on their right to stay in Ireland or settled with their families, children from a migrant background face a broad range of challenges.
Over the last number of years we have worked alongside young people to identify the key problems they face and engage with law and policy makers to improve this situation.
The failure to consider the individual rights and needs of children in Ireland’s immigration system is having a devastating impact on the lives of too many migrant children in Ireland.
Children we have met and supported are facing unacceptable and unnecessary challenges, left in limbo because their immigration status is unclear and facing a series of barriers if they ‘age out’ before this is sorted. These include having trouble accessing education, and having their health and housing rights respected. They are often entirely left out of decisions being made about their lives.
Our Constitution states the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration when making laws or policy that affect young people’s lives, but this has not always been the case to date. While efforts are made to meet migrant children’s needs in law and policy, there is a lack of consistency and accountability.
While vulnerable children including refugees, children in care, unaccompanied minors and victims of human trafficking are particularly affected by this, all migrant children could face the consequences in seeking access to education, having a recognised residency status, or being protected from racism or exploitation.
In 2016 we published ‘Child Migration Matters’, the first research of its kind in Ireland, detailing in-depth the various areas of immigration and child law and policy which negatively affect migrant girls and boys in Ireland.
A total of 32 young people provided testimony for the research and we spoke with more than 150 professionals. This publication and its recommendations will guide our work in this area.
Our calls for change focus on five main areas:
Child protection: Ensuring being born in another country never puts a child to in increased danger of exploitation or harm.
Care and support: The best interests of the child should always be the primary consideration in any decision regarding a child’s care. Any staff and foster carers working with or supporting children in a care setting must be trained on immigration matters, including the law, cultural competency and indicators of exploitation and trafficking.
Immigration procedures: We are calling for a specific agency or contact point to be established which will take responsibility for providing information and legal advice on immigration to children and those supporting them, with specific attention to the additional challenges children in care face.
Asylum seeking children: Take action to adequately respond to the unacceptably high numbers of children in extreme danger as a result of the refugee crisis through residency and relocation programmes. Parallel to these actions the State must child-proof the asylum process, with particular attention paid to the age assessment procedures and support of victims of trafficking.
- Awareness raising: The actions above must be accompanied by efforts to ensure increased awareness for parents, guardians and in education centres of the need to register children with immigration services so that they can access their entitlements such as further education without delay.
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
The Immigrant Council of Ireland has partnered with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and The Irish Refugee Council to help young people who have been granted refugee status or other protection to reunite with their families in Ireland.
Approximately 175 unaccompanied children arrive in Ireland every year. The majority have left their families in countries impacted by conflict, including Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria and Ethiopia.
Reunifying with family is critically important to children’s well-being, mental health, and development.
There is no state-provided legal aid available for applications for family reunification in Ireland. Without legal help, it is difficult for children to apply for family reunification and to meet all requirements, or to challenge refusals of their applications. Children can also miss the limited time window to reunite with their families in safety.
By training pro bono lawyers to assist children through the family reunification process, the project addresses the gap in legal services that fall outside the scope of state legal aid.
A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Simmons and Simmons have joined the project as pro bono partners. With ICI and IRC’s training and guidance, their lawyers provide free, child-friendly legal advice to young people who have arrived in Ireland alone and are seeking to reunite with the families they left behind.
This project is part of KIND’s broader initiative to provide legal protection for unaccompanied children in Europe and advance their rights. In this pilot initiative, KIND has adapted its U.S.-based pro bono model to expand legal assistance to unaccompanied children on the move in Europe. In partnership with leading local non-profit organizations, KIND has developed projects that respond to the context and needs of unaccompanied children and seek policies grounded in children’s rights.
Additional KIND initiatives in Europe
KIND is partnering with European Lawyers in Lesvos to help unaccompanied children on the Greek island to reunify with family in other European member states and to change incorrect age determinations.
In France, KIND is partnering with the Alliance des Avocats pour les Droits de l’Homme (AADH) to help unaccompanied children secure international protection, residency, housing, and other essential services.
And in partnership with Child Circle, a Belgium-based expert NGO in the field of migration and child rights, KIND is working to educate and raise awareness of the challenges faced by children on the move in Europe and of their need for protection in order to secure systemic change in migration policy in the E.U.
Report: Advancing Protection for Unaccompanied Children in Europe by Strengthening Legal Assistance from Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and Child Circle
In January 2021 KIND and Child Circle published a joint report summarising the key learnings from rolling out its pro bono model in Europe to provide quality legal assistance to unaccompanied migrant children
In summary, the report recommends reforming EU law to ensure that:
- Unaccompanied minors should have access to both a legal advisor and a guardian to protect their best interests.
- New EU border procedures outlined in the EU's 'Pact on Migration and Asylum' should not be applicable to unaccompanied minors or families with children.
- Sufficient safeguards need to be built into the screening procedures outlined in the Pact to ensure that children are referred away from the border and that age disputed cases are given the benefit of the doubt.
- Legal advisors should be specially trained to work with children.
- Clear and detailed procedures should be implemented on conducting best interest assessments
To download the report, visit the KIND website.