May 12-13, San Sebastian, Spain
“What can the EU do for the protection of unaccompanied minors?”: The sixth transnational conference organised in the framework of the “Solidarity in a Future Europe” project emphasised on forced movement as experienced by children and youth. Giuliana Colella and Marianna Dimou of Inter Alia’s Council of Members contributed their year-long work experience in the refugee camps in Greece and reflected Inter Alia’s political positions and concerns regarding minor protection and the production of progressive EU migration policies.
A European common policy on unaccompanied minors is vital to guarantee human rights to youngsters crossing European borders. The solidarity response to the events in Ukraine was impressive and pointed to the idea that a more solid protection system could be implemented for everyone regardless of their nationality.
In order to achieve such improvement in the quality of life of minors crossing European borders, the discourse around them needs to change within the hosting communities, as they represent the first real step towards integration. Indeed, if locals do not see migrants as a threat anymore they will advocate for their rights and offer more support to the system.
Considering the situation in Spain prior to the modification of the Aliens’ Act, the reform of 2021 was a necessity in order to make the protection system and reception centers for unaccompanied minors fair and useful for their future in the country. The reform serves as a tool of social inclusion through the access to the job market for anyone aged 16, exactly as for local youth.
Most young people leaving Morocco for Spain have agency in their mobility, they make a decision, they create networks of youngsters creating new migration routes, they collaborate with people their age already on the ground because their desire to live a different life is stronger than any fear. Therefore, a “transnational protection system” that involves European member states, countries of origin, schools, youngsters and their families back home to still guarantee the adequate support they need as minors.
Unaccompanied minors meet daily obstacles to integration such as borders, the determination of their age, the difficult access to their rights as minors and mostly the lack of support from the moment they become adults on their 18th birthday and they are expected to leave the reception facilities and their few comforts to maybe live in the streets. The gap in the system needs to be filled, by providing help to minors but also young adults that often feel abandoned by the protection policies in place.
The life stories of people who arrived in Spain as minors and the way they experienced the various phases of such protection system are highly diverse. Support from local community and civil society is key. Similarly, different national policies can have diverse impact on the lives of unaccompanied minors. In view of the Russian invasion in Ukraine and its impact, it is important that good practices and know-how that has been accumulated through recent experiences are utilised for putting forward more fair and humane refugee policies.
As often, when people with diverse experiences and coming from several countries meet, it is interesting to hear different stories and approaches to the same challenges, to discuss solutions sharing good practices and to learn that there is a strong community of NGOs and civil society that works hard on filling the institutional gaps and guaranteeing basic human rights and dignity to minors on the move. Nevertheless, a lot can still be done, and transnational collaboration is needed in order to improve the European response to a phenomenon that will not end soon.