The Odyssey of Unaccompanied Minors in Europe

By Karl Kopp,
PRO ASYL Director of European Affairs.

Refugee children are detained in despicable Greek jails along the Turkish border. Homeless Afghan boys roam the city centre of Athens, Greek harbors, the streets of Rome, Paris and Calais. The list of possible locations in Europe where these children can be found is long and they are places where children’s rights and refugee protection do not exist.

These locations are the result of a shameful European policy towards refugees. Despite the fact that there are numerous documents where the rights of children are held sacred, in practice, thousands of unaccompanied children and youth are left to stray throughout Europe without any rights or protection. Within Europe, these minors become victims of human rights violations and all that Europe does is shed a few false tears.

Europe doesn‘t answer

Why are unaccompanied minors in Europe forced to risk their lives in order to reach their families and friends in other European countries? Why are there no safe options for this particularly vulnerable group? Why are there no cross-border protection mechanisms to prevent homelessness, exploitation, violence and detention within Europe? Why are unaccompanied children sent back to the place of first entry like a returned package? Is all of this to be done simply because that is what the technocratic Dublin II Regulation foresees?

The story of A.R.- 17 years old from Afghanistan

While fleeing from Afghanistan and in search for safety and dignity, A.R. experienced detention and deportation on countless occasions.

After leaving Afghanistan, A.R. lived together with his parents and his younger siblings in Pakistan until 2007. He then travelled to Turkey via Iran. He was arrested near the Turkish border town of Van, detained in Ankara for two months, and then deported to Kabul. From Afghanistan he fled again, crossing Iran and Turkey, this time reaching as far as Greece where he was detained yet again. After his release from detention, he continued his journey to Albania, where he was detained in Tirana for one month.

Kosovo was his next stop, where he spent two days in prison. Later while in Serbia, he was put into an orphanage for three months together with Serbian children and adolescents. A.R. was still in search of reaching Europe, a place that he identified as safe and where he thought he would receive protection.  After reaching Hungary, he was arrested at the border and kept in a police station for one night. He was later transferred to the detention centre of Bicske where a doctor declared him to be an adult.

When A.R. was threatened to be deported to Greece, he fled to Austria where he was later detained for ten days. While visiting a doctor for a serious injury he obtained, he was declared to be a minor and brought to the reception centre of Traiskirchen in Austria. After about four months he was deported to Hungary and consequently detained in Békéscaba for about 15 days. A.R. fled back to Austria, where for three months he was detained in a removal centre once again.

After ten days he was deported to Hungary for a second time, where he stayed for 15 days in the Békéscaba detention center, followed by four months in a prison in Nyírbátor, two months in Zalaegerszeg and finally two days in a prison in Budapest. Once released, A.R. fled to Austria for a third time. He stayed in the reception centre of Traiskirchen for a month before he fled to Switzerland in order to avoid being deported to Hungary again. There he was first registered as a minor; however, after three weeks he was declared to be an adult.

For six months A.R. lived in different centers in Zurich. Before his third deportation to Hungary he was detained for five days in Zurich and then brought to a detention centre by the German border patrol. There he was detained for three weeks before being sent back to Hungary. He spent about two months in the refugee camp of Debrecen before being transferred to the new deportation centre in Balassagyarmat. Once again A.R. fled and now he is living in a youth facility in Hamburg.

As a result of his experiences, he has been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.

Dublin is the problem – create a European protection system for unaccompanied minors

Unaccompanied minors in Europe should no longer be exposed to the Dublin system and Europe needs a protection system that is accessible specifically for children.

In spring 2010, PRO ASYL suggested an initiative to establish pilot projects located at the main entry points of minors in different EU countries. At the first point of contact, humane accommodation for refugee children should be guaranteed. A pre-clearing procedure in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could very quickly establish in which European countries the children have relatives and who could care for the children. If someone is identified, then a safe transfer could be assured. For minors who do not have family ties in Europe, they could be distributed among European states according to criteria which would take into account the well-being of the child. This is the only way to end the appalling human rights scandal which is taking place right now in the European Union.

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