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Human Rights Council holds panel discussion on unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents and human rights

AFTERNOON
 
GENEVA (9 June 2017) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a panel discussion on unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents and human rights, hearing an opening statement by Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  
 
The moderator of the panel was Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The panelists were Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; Cristiana Carletti, Associate Professor of International Law at University of Roma Tre, Italy; Obiora Chinedu Okafor, Member of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee; Lucio Melandri, Senior Emergency Advisor at the United Nations Children’s Fund; and Gholamreza Hassanpour, former unaccompanied migrant youth, assisted by Katerina Giannikopoulou, Social Worker at the Greek Council for Refugees.
 
In his opening statement, High Commissioner Zeid recalled that at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children had been recorded in some 80 countries in 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011.  Many of those children were fleeing situations of conflict and violence.  Some of them migrated entirely independently.  But above all, they remained children, said the High Commissioner, who noted that it was of utmost importance that further efforts were carried out to ensure that all States did a better job of providing protection and assistance for all migrant children.  The best interest of the child had to guide all relevant policies, including with regard to age assessments, entry, stay and expulsion. 
 
Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, underlined that 90 per cent of children crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa and arriving in Italy were unaccompanied.  All branches of the Government had to be involved in dealing with the issue of unaccompanied minors.  Age was central to children and their rights.  Reception of unaccompanied children was another problematic area.  Child protection authorities should play a leading role as much as possible. 
 
Cristiana Carletti, Associate Professor of International Law at University Roma, Italy, said that it was a matter of fact that accompanied, unaccompanied and separated migrant children were entitled to enjoy the most relevant rights and freedoms enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, starting with the principle of the best interest of the child.  The legal status of accompanied and unaccompanied minors needed always to be investigated to identify their basic needs.  There should be tutors with proper skills to take care of unaccompanied minors, and methodologies to track family members in order to facilitate family reunification.
 
Lucio Melandri, Senior Emergency Advisor at the United Nations Children’s Fund, noted that the number of children moving across international borders was sky-rocketing.   Unaccompanied children had needs, and aggressive pushbacks could leave them in countries where they were not welcome.  They had to turn to smugglers.  Corrupt and inadequate law enforcement measures worked against children.  The United Nations Children’s Fund reminded delegations of six points, which included ending the detention of children seeking refuge, and giving children legal status. 
 
Obiora Chinedu Okafor, Member of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, described a study carried out by the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the situation of unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents from a human rights perspective.  The study had been carried out through the analysis of responses to a questionnaire circulated to States, international organizations, civil society, and other stakeholders, and to documentary research.  Some of the main human rights issues facing them were trafficking for sexual and economic exploitation, racial discrimination and gender discrimination, among other issues. 
 
Gholamreza Hassanpour, former unaccompanied migrant youth, whose statement was read by Katerina Giannikopoulou from the Greek Council for Refugees, shared his experience that illustrated the one that tens of thousands of unaccompanied children around the world were going through.  Born in Afghanistan in 1990, he fled to Iran with his family in his early childhood.  He decided to leave his family behind and fled towards Europe at the age of 16, paying a smuggler to lead him into Turkey.
 
Wrapping up the discussion, Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and panel moderator, stated that the protection of the child’s best interest had to be a primary consideration that prevailed over migration management objectives or other administrative considerations, and should be the guiding principle in establishing policy frameworks or public policies that affected children, including in the context of the appointment of guardians, age assessment, immigration detention, returns, access to basic services and family reunification.  The principle of non-discrimination should similarly underpin all measures that affected migrant children and adolescents, be they education policies, migration border control measures or family reunification. 
 
In the discussion, speakers focused on the innate vulnerability of unaccompanied migrant children.  At any stage of their journey, they were likely to see their right to life, health and education violated.  Many asked the panellists to share best practices for children’s integration that could be applied according to countries’ capabilities.  The international community should urgently address the root causes of forced displacement of minors.    
 
Speaking were the European Union, Slovenia on behalf of a group of countries, El Salvador on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, Argentina, Sierra Leone, Mexico, France, Brazil, El Salvador, South Africa, Council of Europe, Ecuador, Holy See, Bolivia, Russian Federation, Greece, Colombia, Iraq, Turkey, Portugal, Fiji, Bulgaria, Pakistan, Libya, United States, Jordan, Venezuela and China.
 
The International Committee of the Red Cross also spoke.
 
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, in a common statement with the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, took the floor, as did the following non-governmental organizations: International Detention Coalition Inc., Save the Children International, American Civil Liberties Union, , Caritas Internationalis, Defence for Children International and Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco.
 
The Council will next meet on Monday, 12 June, at 9 a.m. to conclude its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, before starting a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women.
 
Keynote Statement
 
ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the Council’s attention to the urgent subject of human rights violations suffered by many unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had reported that the global number of children on the move on their own had reached a record high.  At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011.  Many of those children were fleeing situations of conflict and violence.  Some of them migrated entirely independently.  But above all, they remained children.  The High Commissioner noted that it was of utmost importance that further efforts were carried out to ensure that all States did a better job of providing protection and assistance for all migrant children. 
 
Migration governance systems had failed to take into account the children’s views, heightening the risks faced by children who were determined to continue to reach their intended destination.  The best interest of the child must guide all relevant policies, including with regard to age assessments, entry, stay and expulsion.  High Commissioner Zeid urged in-depth determination of each child’s need for protection and the harm which may result from deportation.  If a child was sent back to the same conditions which compelled his or her departure, the result might be repeated migration through increasingly dangerous routes. 
 
In last year’s landmark New York Declaration, Member States acknowledged the particular vulnerability of all migrant children, especially those who were unaccompanied.  States were committed to ensure the highest protection of those children.  As consultation towards the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration continued over the next six months, there was a need to strengthen this resolve and uphold the rights of all children on the move.  
 
Statements by the Panellists
 
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, stressed that the panel discussion was not bound to any geographic region; it was a global issue.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child was working on a joint General Comment with the Committee on Migrant Workers on this topic.  Mr. Mezmur underlined that 90 per cent of children crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa and arriving in Italy were unaccompanied.  All branches of the Government had to be involved in dealing with the issue of unaccompanied minors.  Age was central to children and their rights.  The outcome of the age-determination process could be an unaccompanied child or an undocumented migrant, which was a huge gap.  There were a number of practices used by States and often they were not conclusive processes, did not respect children’s best interests, and were intrusive.  Children were detained while their age was being assessed.  Reception of unaccompanied children was another problematic area.  Child protection authorities should play a leading role as much as possible.  Camps should be accessible to children and their families, according to their needs, and should meet an adequate standard of living.  Guardianship for unaccompanied children was another issue, which was linked with family reunification.  As for the exploitation of unaccompanied children, Mr. Mezmur emphasized that without safe and legal migration pathways, children fell prey to exploitation.  Due process which guaranteed access to justice was extremely important for migrant children. 
 
CRISTIANA CARLETTI, Associate Professor of International Law at University Roma Tre, Italy, noted that it was a matter of fact that accompanied, unaccompanied and separated migrant children were entitled to enjoy the most relevant rights and freedoms enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, starting with the principle of the best interest of the child.  The legal status of accompanied and unaccompanied minors needed always to be investigated to identify their basic needs and, above all, the principle of the best interest of the child.  A comprehensive action to deal with challenges had to be based on the recognition of the special needs of migrants in vulnerable situations, and all United Nations Member States had to be committed to protect children’s human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their status, and to develop a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in 2018.  Proper identification procedures and age assessment in reception centres should be in place, as well as consultative mechanisms taking into account children’s age and maturity.  There should be tutors with proper skills to take care of unaccompanied minors, and methodologies to track family members in order to facilitate family reunification.  Finally, specific data collection systems should be created to include all essential information about each case, Ms. Carletti concluded. 
 
LUCIO MELANDRI, Senior Emergency Advisor, United Nations Children’s Fund, said the number of children moving across international borders was sky-rocketing.  Hundreds of thousands of children were affected.  The forces displacing the children were not going away.  South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen were four countries experiencing famine, with children there facing life-threatening malnutrition.  Unaccompanied children had needs, and aggressive pushbacks could leave them in countries where they were not welcome.  They had to turn to smugglers.  Corrupt and inadequate law enforcement measures worked against children.  The United Nations Children’s Fund reminded delegations of six points, which included ending the detention of children seeking refuge, and giving children legal status.  In Jordan and Turkey, progress had been made in ensuring children’s access to education.  The United Nations Children’s Fund was available to Member States to find alternatives to detention. 
 
OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Member of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, described a study carried out by the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the situation of unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents from a human rights perspective.  The study had been carried out through the analysis of responses to a questionnaire circulated to States, international organizations, civil society, and other stakeholders, and to documentary research.  Some of the main human rights issues facing these children were trafficking for sexual and economic exploitation, racial discrimination and gender discrimination, among other issues.  Some of the Committee’s recommendations included for States to bring their domestic regimes up to par with international human rights law, especially the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the jurisprudence of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  Another recommendation was for States to treat unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents who passed through or were otherwise on their territories much like they were supposed to treat their minor citizens who were in a vulnerable position.  
 
KATERINA GIOANNIKOPOULOU, Social Worker, Greek Council for Refugees, speaking on behalf of GHOLAMREZA HASSANPOUR, a former unaccompanied migrant child, shared his experience that illustrated one that tens of thousands of unaccompanied children around the world were going through.  Born in Afghanistan in 1990, he had fled to Iran with his family in his early childhood.  There, even with a valid residency permit, he had felt under constant threat of deportation.  He had decided to leave his family behind and fled towards Europe at the age of 16.  Mr. Hassanpour began his journey at the Iran-Turkey border where he paid a smuggler to lead him into Turkey.  On his last night at the border zone, Turkish guards approached his caravan and he was ordered to run.  After trying to cross the border again with smugglers, the Turkish border guards took him back to Iran.  He managed to evade them for a whole day, starving and thirsty before being captured again.  Eventually he was able to pay for his release and arrived to Istanbul and then Athens after having embarked on an overcrowded lifeboat.  Mr. Hassanpour stressed that throughout the course of their journeys, unaccompanied children were faced with great dangers.  It was important that child protection officers – not police or border guards - were present at every step of the migration journey.
 
Discussion
 
European Union said unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents faced particular risks and deserved protection.  They needed enhanced protection from child trafficking rings.  Efforts needed to be stepped up, and States should ensure access to quality education.  The European Union and its Member States were committed to that cause.  Slovenia, also speaking on behalf of Austria and Croatia, said an unprecedented number of migrants had arrived at those countries’ borders in 2015, and the three countries had put in place measures to protect the most vulnerable among them.  There was a need to assist children in their integration in local communities, and to offer them basic services so they could feel safe and welcome.  El Salvador, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said it was vital that the international community pooled efforts to fight the groups taking advantage of migrants’ vulnerability.  Countries of origin, transit and destination must all avoid inappropriate procedures; there must be proper safeguards regardless of migratory status. 
 
Argentina said it had a national programme for regularising migrants’ documentation, and when it came to minors seeking protection, specialized psychological care should be procured for those who had been victims of violence.  Sierra Leone said with the escalation of conflict around the world, unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents were on the increase, and child, early and forced marriages were also on the increase, which adversely affected children.  The panellists were asked to assess how they envisaged the future impact of the Global Compact on Migration.  Mexico said migrants must be protected throughout the migratory cycle, and drew the attention of the Council to protocols for identifying international protection needs.  A preventive approach was the right way forward, and all States should promote a human rights-based approach.
 
France stated that migrant children were frequently victims of smugglers and traffickers, and other forms of exploitation.  Procedural guarantees needed to be elaborated in order to address the rights and needs of unaccompanied minors.  That question should be given particular attention in the Global Compact.  Brazil noted that particular attention should be given to the needs and vulnerabilities of migrant children, who constituted around 30 million worldwide.  Immigration policies should never be enforced at the expense of the child’s interests.  El Salvador said that millions of children around the world moved across international borders, reaching a record level.  It urged all countries to respect and protect the rights of all migrants, regardless of their status, and to end the detention of migrant children. 
 
South Africa stressed that documentation was an integral component of protection, concurrent to ensuring protection and exploring documentation options for the child.  But when family tracing efforts had been exhausted without positive results, the Government needed to ensure the child’s protection.  Council of Europe said that its European-wide Action Plan aimed at addressing the main concerns linked with the migration process, with a focus on unaccompanied children.  The plan aimed to ensure access to rights and child-friendly procedures, and enhancing the integration of children who would remain in Europe.  International Committee of the Red Cross said that it helped unaccompanied children to re-establish contact with their families.  But tracing people across borders was a difficult task, exacerbated by the fact that some people wanted to stay off the grid because they were in an undocumented situation.  States should ensure that the documentation of children met their needs.
 
International Detention Coalition Inc., in a joint statement with, Terre des Hommes Federation Internationale, and Save the Children International, thanked Mr. Hassanpour for his moving testimony and recalled that tens of thousands of children were going through similar risky journeys every year.  Some of them were held in detention.  The Coalition had recently launched a global campaign in order to end the practice of the detention of child migrants.  Save the Children International recalled that children on the move were often placed in situations of extreme vulnerability.  Their detention could further harm their development and psychology.  Save the Children International called on States to invest in child protection systems responsive to the specific needs of children on the move, and ensure that their best interests was a priority.   American Civil Liberties Union voiced concerns about migrating children who were denied protection when identified as adults or Mexican at the United States-Mexican border.  Adequate legal frameworks and protection policies should be put in place in order to avoid abuse and violence against children.
 
Remarks by Panellists
 
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, highlighted that any policy that was being conceived needed to take into account the principle of the best interest of the child that should be considered a procedural right.  In a number of instances, there was a lack of emphasis on primary prevention.  He voiced concerns about the exploitation risks that were exacerbated at the borders during the age assessment process.  It was important to emphasize the notion of “sharing” and not “shifting” the responsibility of children on the move who needed to be considered as victims.  Also urgent was the provision of effective campaigns to address discrimination and hate speech against migrants, including children, and to facilitate their access to health services and education.
 
CRISTIANA CARLETTI, Associate Professor of International Law, University of Roma Tre, Italy, addressed States’ efforts in view of the Global Compact and said for example that shelters had been created for unaccompanied minors, and the national plan had established temporary shelters as well as the enlargement of other shelters available to minors.  First assistance, screening and other steps were guaranteed at those locations.  All the information was included in a special system that would be put into compliance with the Global Compact.  Regarding how to strengthen migrant children’s rights, she said key areas included guardianship systems and family tracing mechanisms.
 
LUCIO MELANDRI, Senior Emergency Advisor, United Nations Children’s Fund, said the challenge was how to translate commitments into action.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child was the most ratified instrument, but the question was how to make sure that legislation at the national level matched.  The Convention was about the children in a country regardless of their provenance.  The main issue was to implement, update and upgrade national legislative frameworks and assure that they reflected the components of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Children were holders of rights that all Member States acknowledged and ratified.
 
OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Member of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, said that the law on its own could not affect social change.  There was a need for practical measures.  There had to be alternative migration pathways that were credible and realistic, which would ease the pressure on irregular routes.  The migration problem could not be disassociated from economic and social problems, which lay at the heart of the decision of people to migrate.  Accordingly, measures in the realms of economy and social issues should accompany those taken in the domain of migration. 
 
GHOLAMREZA HASSANPOUR, former unaccompanied migrant youth, assisted by KATERINA GIANNIKOPOULOU, Social Worker, Greek Council for Refugees, said that when he had arrived in Europe in 2005, he had felt safe.  But he had had to spend some time in a detention centre for unaccompanied children.  There were many changes since 2005 regarding unaccompanied children.  Nowadays there were more services, but at the same time, the number of unaccompanied children had increased.  Moreover, there were not enough people specialized for the protection of unaccompanied children, such as interpreters and psychologists.  There were also no programmes for integration.  The roads of Athens were filled with children who looked lost. 
 
Discussion
 
Ecuador warned of the constant threats to unaccompanied minors, which was why Ecuador had adopted a human mobility law with provisions on family unity and specialized legal aid for minor migrants.  That law allowed the Government to prevent the exploitation of unaccompanied migrant children.  Holy See noted that too often migrant children suffered from the worst forms of human degradation.  To respect children was to respect the whole of humanity.  Even a brief period of detention could have life-long consequences for the child’s development.  Bolivia expressed hope that the panel discussion would lead into the Global Compact, regretting that the border protection and management perspective overshadowed the human rights aspect of migration.  Border control policies contributed to the current problem. 
 
Russian Federation voiced concern about the situation of minor migrants in the European Union, particularly about their sexual exploitation.  There was a need for the settlement of conflicts and the fight against terrorism in order to resolve the problem of migration.  Greece stated that it had created more than 1,000 reception places for minor migrants.  Specific measures had been taken to protect the best interests of unaccompanied minors, leading to examples of successful integration.  Honduras said that the challenges to protect the human rights of unaccompanied minors made up a crucial debate for Honduras, which had recently experienced unprecedented levels of influx of migrants on their way to the United States.
 
Colombia said that welfare institutions could provide care for minors.  A migrant network involving the private sector and a transit room provided necessary materials and psychological assistance to migrant children.  Iraq recognized that international cooperation was important to provide protection to migrant children, who constituted half of the people fleeing their countries and were particularly vulnerable.  Turkey said that the efforts to ensure the dignity of migrants was the responsibility of States and the international community.  In 2013, Turkey had adopted a law establishing a legal basis for the principle of non-refoulement and temporary protection.  Portugal said that unaccompanied minors were exposed to grave violence and restrictions of their rights.  Their psychological needs should be taken into account in order to adequately address the problem, which was why Portugal provided them with psychological assistance.
 
Fiji said the issue of unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents was one of the most vexed and painful issues facing the international community, adding that the displacement of persons because of climate change was an issue of particular concern for Fiji.  The international community faced the complex task of establishing a legal framework for mass movements of climate refugees.  Bulgaria said national institutions were working in cooperation with the Bulgarian Red Cross, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and non-governmental organizations, to find appropriate solutions for migrant children.  The panellists were asked to share best practices for children’s integration that could be applied according to countries’ capabilities. 
 
Equality and Human Rights Commission, in a joint statement with the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, said the United Kingdom should retain its status as a leader on human rights following its exit from the European Union.  The United Kingdom should ensure there was support for asylum-seeking children. 
 
Caritas Internationalis (International Confederation of Catholic Charities), in a joint statement with, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, and Dominicans for Justice and Peace - Order of Preachers, raised the issue of threats to unaccompanied minors, urging the Human Rights Council to protect the rights of migrant children in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Children should never be deported, and the international community should urgently address the root causes of forced displacement of minors.  Defence for Children International, in a joint statement with, International Catholic Child Bureau, welcomed the panel discussion and the report of the Special Rapporteur, noting that unaccompanied minor children must never be detained, and alternatives did exist.   Migrant children, regardless of their migratory status, were children first and foremost. 
 
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the unaccompanied movement of children was an act of desperation, and noted that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation had always remained engaged with the international community on that issue.  It was important to address the root causes of displacement.  Libya stated that a significant difference occurred between children and adults in migration situations, due to children’s innate vulnerability.  Children could even find themselves associated with terrorist groups, which was why Libya urged countries to stop their proxy wars.  United States underlined that unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents were an inherently vulnerable group.  It encouraged countries of transit and destination to share best practices to identify and respond to the needs of unaccompanied migrant children.  Jordan stated that it had done a lot to protect the rights of unaccompanied migrant children, noting that there was need to counter networks of traffickers and smugglers and to operationalize the best interest of the child.  Venezuela said that many children and adolescents faced enormous challenges when they migrated which was why the international community had to address that issue with sincerity and determination.  China noted that unaccompanied migrant children were likely to see their right to life, health and education violated.  They were also victims of slavery and other forms of exploitation.  Host countries had to honour their international obligations and protect children from refoulement. 
 
Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco, in a joint statement with, International Volunteer Organization for Women Education Development,voiced concern about the rising number of unaccompanied migrant children, who felt that they were left with no choice but to leave their home countries.  The Sustainable Development Goals should, thus, address their specific needs, especially education. 
 
Concluding Remarks
 
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, reiterated the importance of granting migrants and particularly children with a residence status to avoid them from being exposed to major human rights violations, including their illegal incorporation in the labour market, specifically in the agriculture and mining sectors.  It was urgent to abandon the current number driven approach of return procedures in order to avoid that migrant children would engage in even more dangerous routes.   Unfortunately, the acceleration of returns was being done at a high cost.  He also highlighted the significant role played by regional organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States that would facilitate sustainable solutions for children identification.
 
CRISTINA CARLETTI, Associate Professor of International Law at University of Roma Tre, Italy, stated that training and education institutions were key to allow children to fully enjoy their rights to access to education.  Facilitating education avenues for children was crucial to facilitate their entrance in the labour market.  Such measures and policies had been adopted in Italy, a country that had faced a massive influx of unaccompanied migrants in the last years.
 
LUCIO MELANDRI, Senior Emergency Advisor, United Nations Children’s Fund, said the Global Compact process was a non-binding, Member State process.  It was very important to continue to include civil society’s involvement.  On the issue raised by Portugal, regarding transition from the educational to the labour market, the United Nations Children’s Fund believed that the educational system was the best way to integrate children, as it meant being accepted into the community alongside other children.
 
OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Member of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, said a contribution of the Global Compact included the possibility of setting an educational policy.  Language training but also language education was very important to integrate migrants into the job market.  Work internships, even at the high school level, helped a lot, as did multicultural schooling. 
 
GHOLAMREZA HASSANPOUR, unaccompanied migrant youth, assisted by KATERINA GIANNIKOPOULOU, Social Worker, Greek Council for Refugees, said all members had talked about laws regarding the protection of children, especially unaccompanied children, which was very important.  The most important was the implementation of those laws, to make them real in practice.  The most dangerous thing for him had been the trip.  The international community should find solutions so unaccompanied minors did not travel so unsafely.  Either they should be safe in their own countries, or they should find safe and legal ways to the places they wanted to go.  The money that currently went to smugglers could go towards visas or travel documents instead.  States should cover unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents’ needs, especially their educational needs.  A healthy and productive life was the key to integration.
 
PEGGY HICKS, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and panel moderator, stated that a lot of different words had been used to describe the situation of migrant children.  What came strongly in the panel discussion were repeated comments that migrant children, regardless of their status or condition, were children first and foremost.  The protection of the child’s best interest had to be a primary consideration that prevailed over migration management objectives or other administrative considerations, and should be the guiding principle in establishing policy frameworks or public policies that affected children, including in the context of the appointment of guardians, age assessment, immigration detention, returns, access to basic services and family reunification.  The principle of non-discrimination should similarly underpin all measures that affected migrant children and adolescents, be they education policies, migration border control measures or family reunification.  A robust gender analysis of the differential impacts of migration policies and programmes on migrant children of all genders was essential.  A holistic and comprehensive approach was essential to ensuring the survival, growth and development of migrant children, including the physical, mental, moral, spiritual and social dimensions of their development.  The use of detention, even for short periods, could be extremely detrimental to their physical and mental health.  The testimony of Gholamreza Hassanpour underlined the importance of listening to migrant children’s voices and to learning from their experiences.  States should, thus, take measures to ensure the migrant child’s right to be heard and to participate in decisions that affect them.

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