Lost In Migration Conference - Protecting Child Victims Of Trafficking
Silvia Nicolaou Garcia
The Law Of… protecting child victims of trafficking
In 2016, around 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees went missing after arriving in Europe, many of whom are believed to have fallen victim to trafficking syndicates.
On 26th and 27th January 2017, Missing Children Europe held a conference – Lost in Migration – which aimed to raise awareness of the protection of migrant children and their rights.
Silvia Nicolaou Garcia, Solicitor for Simpson Millar's Community Care and Public Law team shares her experience of attending and speaking at the conference.
What Did The Conference Cover?
The conference was organised to coincide with the informal Justice and Home Affairs Council that took place at the same time in Malta, and to mark the start of Malta’s 6-month presidency of the Council of the European Union.
As part of the conference, professionals who are involved in safeguarding migrant children looked at the current situation and explored what improvements could be made to how these children are treated in Europe.
Around 160 professionals and stakeholders attended the event, including:
- The UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
- The Director of EASO
- The Director of Europol and H.E Maria Louise Coleiro Preca
- The President of Malta
- Colleagues from the UK including ECPAT UK, the Children’s Society, and Missing People
Identifying Why Migrant Children Are Going Missing
Looking at statistics on the number of migrants arriving in Europe, it's clear that a large proportion of people seeking asylum are children:
- 30% of all people currently seeking asylum in Europe are children, half of whom are under the age of 14
- Since January 2016, 38% of people who have arrived in Greece and 91% in Italy are children
Some of the main reasons why refugee children are going missing were also identified during the conference, including:
- Poor reception conditions for children
- Complex family reunification procedures
- A lack of information for children
- Delay in the appointment of guardians
- A lack of adequate training for frontline professionals
- A lack of coordination at both a national and an international level
Increasing Protection For Child Victims Of Trafficking
Philippa Southwell from Birds Solicitors and Maria Moodie from Garden Court Chambers joined Silvia at the conference, where they delivered a joint legal workshop on how the law could better protect unaccompanied trafficked children in Europe.
They concentrated on the following areas of risk:
1. More protection for child victims of trafficking who are at risk of going missing
In the EU and the UK, there are already a number of legal obligations that aren't being adhered to effectively or implemented correctly to stop migrant and refugee children from going missing. The existing legal obligations are triggered as soon as authorities come into contact with children and young migrants who have been trafficked into Europe and have gone missing.
The duty arises:
- When they first arrive in the country
- When they are intercepted by the authorities
- When they're released from custody or detention
- When they're under the care of local authorities or social services
2. Not prosecuting victims of trafficking
It's an unfortunate reality that victims of trafficking – particularly children – who have been in the criminal justice system (after being forced to commit an offence by those trafficking them) are unfairly prosecuted due to uninformed prosecutors, defence lawyers, and courts.
A number of international, regional, and domestic legal instruments already exist that are designed to create defences for victims of human trafficking, but they are not consistently applied.
Professionals who come into contact with victims of trafficking, who may not have been identified as such, have a duty to consider their circumstances and any indicators of trafficking before arresting and charging these victims for criminal offences they have been compelled to commit due to their trafficking situation.
3. The role of age assessments in safeguarding children
Correctly identifying the age of a child or young migrant is crucial, as there is a considerable amount of legal safeguards and protections for unaccompanied children seeking asylum.
"We recommended that age assessments should be regarded as a child protection issue, and that there should be a harmonised set of procedural and substantive standards of fairness across Europe", Silvia explains.
Leaving behind the more unreliable and invasive medical examinations, the new set of standards should be based on a more holistic assessment of age. This assessment would be conducted by independent bodies, whose decisions can be challenged in front of independent tribunals.
Silvia, Philippa, and Maria also suggested that child or young migrants should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to identifying their age, and that the ‘bright line’ cut-off age of 18 should be reconsidered for this group.
The Outcome Of The Conference
By the end of the conference, several recommendations were made on how migrant children could be protected more effectively:
- Having better accommodation and reception arrangements for children
- Introducing more efficient procedures and international cooperation, including the application of international protection and Dublin procedures
- Swiftly appointing qualified and trained guardians for all unaccompanied and separated children
- Offering better information for children, and respecting their right to be heard
- Identifying and implementing appropriate solutions for children, in line with their best interests
- Having effective support for children to move safely and regularly from one country to another when it is in their best interests
- Providing more resources for raising awareness of the problem of trafficking and training for all professionals working with children
- Formalising the cooperation between professionals involved in the situation of a missing unaccompanied child
- Having stronger cross-border cooperation in child protection, on both a governmental and non-governmental level, including when responding to disappearances
- Using any personal data of children only for the sake of protection, and never to manage migration or the return of children
An action plan for the EU was also called for by those attending the event, with the goal of keeping migrant children as safe as possible.
"Being forced to flee their homes and take dangerous, desperate journeys across Europe is difficult enough for adults, let alone for children making the journey on their own."
"Children on the move are at risk of the worst forms of abuse and harm. Without anyone to protect them, it is too easy for children to fall victim to traffickers and other criminals."
"Governments across Europe need to take stronger action when it comes to identifying victims of trafficking and offering them the protection and support they need."
If you want to find out more about the conference and join the conversation on Twitter about protecting child migrants, use the hashtags #lostinmigration and #nametheunamed.