A number of prominent experts, judges and lawyers discussed the most pressing issues concerning separated trafficked and asylum seeking children in the EU at a two-day conference. The conference took place in the framework of the EU funded project “Separated Children in Judicial Proceedings” led by The AIRE Centre. Whereas some positive trends were welcomed, such as the decision delivered by the European Court of Justice in September dismissing complaints lodged by Slovakia and Hungary about the EU’s migrant relocation scheme, a number of thorny issues remain unaddressed.

As the EU and Member states are trying to find a balance between a need of enhanced border security and their international obligations under international and European law, the problem of irregular migrants and asylum seekers’ vulnerability identification until now is a loophole for traffickers of human beings. Particularly it concerns unaccompanied minors, who become victims, among others, due to their increased vulnerability and lack of access to legal aid.

“In June 2015, from all the migration flows arriving in Greece, 1 in 10 was a child and 6 months later the figures tripled. Moreover, in 2016, 10 % out of 21, 300 of children who came to Greece were unaccompanied. Unfortunately, they often become victims of exploitation, sexual and physical abuse,” Markella Papadouli, Registered European Lawyer at the AIRE Centre says.

However, crossing the EU border does not necessarily mean that an unaccompanied minor will be treated as provisions of international law require from member states. The lack of proper infrastructure and suitable facilities, risky living conditions, delays in asylum relocation procedures, lack of monitoring mechanisms perhaps contribute to a horrifying fact that up to half of the number of unaccompanied migrant children who are placed in certain reception centres in Europe vanish yearly. Many of them fall victims to internal trafficking, sexual exploitation, begging and even organ harvesting.

In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, unanimously found that Greece violated the prohibition against inhumane or degrading treatment, as well as right to an effective remedy lodged by Eivas Rahimi, an unaccompanied minor who fled the armed conflicts in his home country Afghanistan. According to the case file, upon his arrival to the Greek island of Lesbos, Rahimi was arrested and sent to a detention camp, placed among adults in poor conditions, pending an order for his deportation. Upon his release the teenager was not offered any assistance from the authorities, which pushed him to live on the streets of Athens until he received help from the local NGOs.

Unfortunately, the number of problems coming across unaccompanied children, which is perhaps the most vulnerable group amid the flows of migrants and asylum seekers coming to the EU, is not exhaustive. In addition to the above difficulties, no one should forget that they miss their parents and relatives, whom they may never meet again. Though the EU and member states cannot replace their families, at least they can try to accommodate those vulnerable children who come to Europe fleeing from wars in their home countries.