6. Conclusion and recommendations [see full report UNHCR AFGHAN CHILDREN JUNE 2010]
233. The interviews conducted in the preparation of this study indicate that unaccompanied Afghan children who make the long trip to Europe are deeply and negatively affected by their experience. As well as the hardships and abuses of the journey, after arrival they are confronted with the prospect of forced return to Afghanistan, coupled with continuing pressure from family members to send remittances home, so that the debts incurred to pay for the journey can be paid off.
234. As stated by a recent study of asylum seeking children in the Netherlands23, “their vulnerability … is increased by the problems they are likely to develop as a result of the lengthy, uncertain and deprived circumstances of their stay in the host country.”
235. Responsibility for this situation rests with a number of different actors. Afghanistan appears to have turned a blind eye to the role of smugglers in irregular migration, including children. Afghan parents, families and communities have allowed and encouraged the departure of their children on hazardous journeys, often to face greater dangers than those they might have faced at home, and all too often with the primary goal of sending back remittances.
236. European countries have complicated the situation by in most cases failing to establish best interest determination procedures and by waiting until Afghan children who are not in need of protection have “aged-out” (i.e. turned 18 years of age) before return is considered as an option.
237. While there is an evident and urgent need to address this issue in a comprehensive and coherent manner, formulating a strategy that is effective, equitable and acceptable to the different stakeholders concerned will not be an easy matter. Even so, there would appear to be a number of constructive steps that could be taken, as summarized in the following set of recommendations, many of which are addressed to UNHCR.
238. UNHCR should give urgent consideration, in close consultation with governments in Europe and other relevant international organizations, to the development of a Comprehensive Plan of Action on Unaccompanied and Separated Afghan Children in Europe, involving the country of origin, as well as countries of transit and destination.
239. The plan would (a) allow those who have already reached Europe to stay if they are in need of international protection; (b) speedily return those who are not in need of international protection and for whom return has been decided upon after taking into account all options in a BID procedure; (c) focus additional efforts and
23 „The developmental consequences for asylum-seeking children living with the prospect for five years or more of enforced return to their home country”, M. Kalverboer, A. Zijlstra and E. Knorth, European Journal of Migration and Law, 11, 2009.
resources on the longer-term task of prevention by providing young Afghans with reasons to stay in their country, and (d) tackle the criminal aspects of human smuggling without compromising the right to seek asylum in another state and without weakening the protection of unaccompanied and separated children who are the move. At the same time, special consideration should be given to the situation of Afghan children who are not in need of international protection, but who, on the basis of a BID procedure, cannot be returned.
240. As a starting point, UNHCR should encourage data sharing by affected states in Europe and elsewhere, on the places of origin, ethnicity, demographic and other relevant biodata on the children as a basis for accurate targeting of information and sensitization campaigns.
241. A comprehensive information/sensitization campaign should be developed, in countries of origin or habitual residence, transit and destination, to inform parents, young people, community leaders and other relevant stakeholders of the dangers of involved in irregular movement. For children who are already on the move, it is important to ensure that the right information is available to them at an appropriate time, in an impartial manner and one that corresponds to the current stage of their journey.
242. In order to offer greater protection, advice and support to young Afghans who have already embarked upon a journey to Europe or Asia, coordinated outreach activities should be developed in transit countries in Europe and elsewhere.
243. With reference to the recent UNODC report (see footnote 6), UNHCR should support further research in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, to clarify how smugglers and their networks are operating.
244. UNHCR should also undertake research in sending communities to better understand the motivations for the departure of Afghan children to Europe and further afield.
245. UNHCR should work with all interested stakeholders, including neighbouring states, to encourage the Government of Afghanistan to adopt more responsible and informed policies and practices towards the irregular movement of its citizens, particularly children; this should include the development of effective legislation and law enforcement capacities to provide more effective deterrence against smuggling.
246. UNHCR should seek to enhance cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan, UNICEF and other rights-based agencies in Afghanistan to support and further develop existing youth networks and structures, such as the Child Protection Action Network (CPAN) and the Youth Information Contact Centre (YICC), as a means to efficiently transmit information to young people and their families prior to departure.
247. While not necessarily being involved operationally in the process of return, UNHCR should contribute to standard setting and monitoring and assist in the tasks of family tracing, assessment of the capacity of families to receive children, the assessment of alternative care provision, as well as short and medium-term reintegration support. It is essential that such functions be established before returns begin.
248. UNHCR should work closely with other UN agencies and the international community to examine sustainable return options for young Afghans, including access to education, vocational training and livelihoods opportunities.
Europe and other affected states
249. UNHCR should actively support continued efforts to achieve a consistent approach to assessing the international protection needs of unaccompanied children. A proactive approach should be developed throughout the region to identify, locate, protect and provide for those children who do not seek asylum and/or do not make themselves known to the authorities, and who thus fall outside any existing protection and assistance framework.
250. UNHCR should take a lead in the development and consistent implementation of standardized procedures to determine durable solutions that are in the best interest of separated children who have not applied for international protection or have not been granted any form of protection should be established throughout Europe and implemented in a consistent manner so as to avert the risk of additional movement. UNHCR‟s existing Guidelines on Determining the Best Interests of the Child should be revised to respond to the situation in the industrialized world, which includes the European context.
251. UNHCR should work closely with states in the development of targeted training programmes, including information on countries of origin and on cultural awareness, should be developed in receiving countries for guardians, social workers and immigration officials working with unaccompanied children from Afghanistan and other countries.
252. UNHCR should promote the development of a rapid response mechanism should be developed within Europe to ensure prompt access to interpreters for newly identified separated children.
253. The detention of unaccompanied children for illegal entry is inherently undesirable. Those countries still practicing such detention should desist immediately and provide alternative care for those children.
254. In order to ensure the optimum protection of unaccompanied children in Europe and to focus limited resources on those in greatest need of support, UNHCR and UNICEF should propose procedural safeguards for age assessment and promote agreement within the EU of a standard methodology that uses the least invasive methods, applying an agreed wide margin of error coupled with the application of the benefit of the doubt.
255. While achieving consistency in standards of childcare across Europe is a distant goal, urgent efforts should be made, with the support of UNHCR, UNICEF and other international child-care agencies, to improve and harmonize standards in the region as a means to discourage separated children from transiting through a number of countries.
256. Not only would this enhance protection by shortening journeys, but it would also enhance responsibility sharing and reduce the pressure on countries that are currently preferred destinations. Such improvements would include enhanced reception arrangements, better access to schooling, interpreter services and common standards of assistance across the region.
257. Education is a human right and as such, all unaccompanied children should be given access to education at the earliest possible time following arrival in a country, regardless of how long the child might remain in that location.