This is the first of a series of blogs highlighting KIND and our partners’ work in Europe
Hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied and separated children are on the move in and around Europe, fleeing war, exploitation, poverty, and other trauma in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Most are unaware or unable to access the protection and support for which they are eligible, including legal, health, housing, and education assistance. As a result, they are extremely vulnerable to violence, trafficking, exploitation, abuse, and other harm.
To help these children access the legal help they desperately need, KIND launched its work in Europe in 2019 to test KIND’s public-private model of pro bono collaboration in the United States to help fill the gaps in legal aid across Europe.
Through this work, KIND and its partners have successfully provided free, high-quality legal assistance to 540 children from 29 countries.
Meeting the needs of unaccompanied and separated children in Europe
The legal needs and experience of unaccompanied and separated children vary widely from country to country in Europe. While there is a common European asylum system, there are many differences in the way that Member States give effect to it. The availability and accessibility of state-provided legal aid can be profoundly different. A key component of KIND’s work in Europe is to respond to the specific needs of children where they are.
This means helping children to apply for family reunification and citizenship in Ireland, through our project with the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Refugee Council. These two processes are critical to a child’s long-term stability and well-being, but for which no government funded legal assistance is available. Earlier this month, the first family arrived in Ireland for an emotional reunion with their child, from whom they have been separated for six years, after completing the family reunification procedure. Forty children have been assisted by trained pro bono lawyers to date.
By contrast, in Greece this means working with KIND’s partner European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) to help unaccompanied young people prepare for their asylum interview, challenge incorrect age assessments, and apply to be reunified with family in other EU Member States.
In one case, a 12-year-old boy from Afghanistan who was living alone in a youth center in Germany was united with his parents after six years apart. The family’s claim for family reunification had originally been rejected by the German authorities, but thanks to the legal assistance they received through ELIL, that decision was successfully challenged. ELIL and a network of remote pro bono lawyers across Europe have together assisted 322 children; most have come from Afghanistan and Syria.
In France, KIND works with the Alliance des Avocats pour les Droits de l’Homme (AADH) to help unaccompanied and separated children with their asylum claims, challenge incorrect age assessments, and obtain residency permits – a critical gateway to their long-term protection. AADH and a local network of trained pro bono lawyers which AADH has mentored have helped 184 children to date.
Creating systemic change
KIND believes that free quality legal assistance is a central safeguard for the protection of unaccompanied children. Together with Child Circle, our nongovernmental organization partner in Belgium, and with input from our partners on the ground, we have published a report containing recommendations on how the EU can make its commitment to protect unaccompanied children a reality. As in the United States, Europe has a way to go, but KIND and Child Circle will continue to push for progress.
We are also monitoring the new EU Migration and Asylum Pact which commits the EU to strengthening laws to “protect and safeguard” unaccompanied children throughout Europe. We are concerned about proposals in the Pact that could harm children and undermine their best interests, such as their treatment as part of new screening procedures at Europe’s borders. Our recent report provides further details on the Pact and makes recommendations to guarantee children’s rights and best interests.
Scaling up to help more unaccompanied children in Europe
KIND and its partners have witnessed firsthand the difference free quality legal assistance makes to the lives of unaccompanied and separated children in Europe. Our model of training and mentoring pro bono lawyers to partner with expert asylum lawyers on cases has proven to be an effective tool to provide legal assistance where none had been available before. The legal profession in Europe has shown itself ready and willing to play its part in helping unaccompanied children navigate the complexities of the European asylum system.
But we know there are many more children in Europe that our services cannot currently reach. We are conducting research and interviews with experts in more countries where there is high unmet demand for legal assistance for unaccompanied children, with the goal of expanding our services.
Stay tuned for our next blog, which will delve more deeply into our work in Europe and its impact. If you would like to stay up to date with our work in Europe, you can sign up to our newsletter here.
If you would like to support our efforts to sustain and scale up our work for unaccompanied children in Europe you can make a donation today at this link.
If you would like to learn more about our work in Europe, or get involved, contact KIND’s Regional Director for Europe, Marieanne McKeown: firstname.lastname@example.org