Showing kindness to the most vulnerable in our society

November 20, 2019

To mark Universal Children’s Day today, the KIND group has announced partnerships to help reunite refugee children in Ireland with the families they left behind, writes Wendy Young.

Imagine a little girl who, in the face of war and violence, must flee the only home she has ever known in search of safety.

Imagine she is making this difficult journey alone because she had to leave her family behind. Once she reaches Ireland, she is lucky enough to gain refugee status, but she is still alone — she needs her family.

As we mark Universal Children’s Day today, Kids in Need of Defense (Kind) is proudly partnering with the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Refugee Council to help her and other children who have been granted refugee status in Ireland reunite with the families they left behind.

Approximately 175 unaccompanied children arrive in Ireland every year. Some will be joining family already here, but many are alone. The majority have left their families in countries impacted by conflict, including Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, and Ethiopia. Some left to avoid forced conscription into armies or to avoid persecution because of their religion or ethnicity.

Others were trafficked to Europe.

Under Irish law, these children are entitled to reunify with family members, but state-provided legal aid does not provide assistance to help them through this complicated process. Without legal help, it is difficult for children to apply and, as a result, they often miss the limited time window to reunite with their families in safety.

The importance of these children reuniting with family members in safety cannot be underestimated. Family can help them deal with the trauma of their experiences so they can move more easily towards a brighter future.

Kind knows first-hand how vital family reunification is to refugee and immigrant children through our work providing free legal representation to tens of thousands of children who have come alone to the US during the last decade.

Kind’s clients, who range in age from toddlers to teenagers, come mostly from Central America, fleeing gang and narco-trafficker violence and forced recruitment into gangs, from which their governments cannot or will not protect them. Many of these children have not seen their parents in years.

Often, their parents come first to the US in search of work to support their families in their home country and it is years before their child makes the journey. These children tell us that reuniting with family is the best thing that has ever happened to them.

For the past decade, Kind’s pro bono partnership model has enabled us to assist thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children in the US.

Kind partners with law firms, corporations, law schools, and bar associations in the US and trains pro bono attorneys to help these children gain immigration status. Immigrant and refugee children are not provided lawyers in the US, regardless of age.

We have more than 640 partners and have trained more than 48,000 attorneys and paralegals to help the more than 20,000 children referred to Kind since 2009. Our pro bono partners have been invaluable in gaining asylum and other protection for these children.

We are thrilled to work with the Immigrant Council and the Irish Refugee Council to bring this model to Ireland.

Together with the Immigrant Council and Irish Refugee Council, as well as our collaborators including A&L Goodbody, Arthur Cox, Microsoft, and LinkedIn, we will work with the Public Interest Law Alliance to train and mentor private sector pro bono lawyers working in law firms and corporate legal departments in Ireland.

This effort will ensure lawyers can successfully represent unaccompanied children in their family reunification applications. The project will also train social care professionals to support refugee children and young people through the process and ensure refugee children referred by social workers and aftercare workers are matched with pro-bono legal help.

Over the next 12 months, our project will support 30 refugee children in their applications for citizenship and family reunification.

As we launch this initiative there is no time to waste and the stakes are high.

The contemporary phenomenon of child migration to Ireland has been relatively unexplored, except through the lens of family migration. That said, what we do know demonstrates the need for this new collaboration.

Research undertaken by the Immigrant Council in 2016 on the experience of young migrants in Ireland found a significant knowledge gap among professionals working with them on their legal entitlements.

This can have a particularly harrowing long-term effect for unaccompanied children, with the report ‘Child Migration Matters’ finding some children who leave the care of the State without appropriate residence permissions ending up in poverty, sometimes homeless or in prostitution.

Building a safety net to ensure refugee children can access their legal entitlements is not just a compassionate act.

Research shows that properly supported families integrate more easily and are in far better positions to enrich local communities and Irish society, in addition to our global community. We are all better for it.

Wendy Young is president of Kids in Need of Defense (Kind).