Unaccompanied Migrant Children (UMC)

What is an Unaccompanied Migrant Child?

Imagine a 15 year old Afghan boy being targeted by the Taliban to forcibly join their ranks. To escape from this perspective, his parents sell their belongings to collect enough money to pay a smuggler in the hope of offering him a new and safe life in a European country. The boy leaves all he has known behind, he travels through Iran and Turkey, arrives in Greece and then hides in a truck until being dropped off in Belgium. A journey that can take a few weeks to several months and which is full of uncertainties.

Imagine a 17 year old girl from Guinea whose parents are planning to marry her to an older man she has never met but to whom she can’t say no without dishonoring her family. She wants to pursue her education and decide to run away from her family and this fate she hasn’t chosen. She has a distant relative in Belgium and decide to risk her life by travelling north to Morocco with the aim of crossing the Mediterranean.

Or, simply imagine a 16 year old boy leaving in a poor community in a rural area of Albania where jobs are hard to find and parents cannot afford to keep paying for their son’s secondary school. The family needs him to earn a living and so he travels to Italy and then Belgium where he plans to find a job as an apprentice. By working, he also hopes that he’ll be able to send enough money for his younger siblings to go to a better school and, later on, chose the profession they want.

War, poverty, human rights abuses etc., while these three children have migrated for various reasons and come from different backgrounds, they share at least one thing in common by being “Unaccompanied Migrant Children” (UMC) or also called “Unaccompanied Minors” (UAM). For IOM, UMC are children, as defined in article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1989 (CRC), who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.

European context

While all EU Member States, including Belgium, have ratified the CRC, the legislation and practices that applies to UMC are not fully harmonized between countries eventough these children are particularly vulnerable and may easily fall victim to criminal networks. For the EU institutions, the term “Unaccompanied Minors” refers to non-EU country nationals or stateless persons who are below the age of eighteen and who arrive in an EU country unaccompanied by a responsible adult or who are left unaccompanied after having entered an EU country.

As the issue of UMC has been growing in the last decade and is now a permanent trend in EU and international migration, the Commission adopted the ‘EU Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors’ (2010-2014) which “aims to provide concrete responses to the challenges posed by the arrival of significant numbers of unaccompanied minors in the EU territory, while fully respecting the rights of the child”. This common EU-wide approach has three main strands of action: to prevent the unsafe migration and trafficking of children, to provide appropriate protection and to find durable solutions while taking into account the best interests of the child as a guiding principle.

The implementation of the Action Plan was accompanied by a mid-term report in September 2012 which concluded: “the common EU approach has enabled more effective cross-cutting policy reflections on how to address the situation of children, regardless of their migratory status, and has facilitated discussions among EU institutions, national authorities, inter-governmental and nongovernmental organizations in different policy arenas, allowing enhanced exchange of knowledge and practices concerning unaccompanied minors”.

And, as the initial planned period of the Action Plan has passed, the Commission will soon report on its implementation and might propose a revision and/or additional actions. Moreover, the European Agenda on Migration presented by the European Commission in May 2015 includes the development of a strategy to follow-up on the Action Plan.

For more information, contact Ms. Charlotte Crahay (ccrahay@iom.int, tel: +32 (0) 2 287 74 16)