Updates on KIND’s work in Europe

August 14, 2023

An Interview with Kirsty Thomson, Senior Director

August 2023 

KIND’s work in Europe has been steadily ramping up since 2019 and took on renewed urgency in 2022 as the conflict in Ukraine escalated. KIND sat down with Kirsty Thomson, who began as KIND’s Senior Director for Europe at the start of this year after having worked alongside KIND for seven years, to learn more about our work on the continent and its origins.


Q: How did KIND’s work in Europe begin? 

A: KIND started working in the UK in 2016. In 2015, I was part of a group of social justice leaders in the UK who met staff from KIND and learned about KIND’s model on a trip to the United States. We realized that we could benefit from KIND’s model of working with the pro bono legal community to improve protection and rights for children on the move into the UK. We approached KIND asking for assistance and were delighted that KIND agreed. As KIND began to work in the UK, the number of children on the move into Europe increased. During 2018, I was privileged to support KIND as it carried out fact-finding missions in Europe to find out how KIND could complement and support the work of other nongovernmental organizations working with children on the move within Europe. KIND hired a regional director and commenced legal programs in Greece, France, and Ireland during 2019 and 2020 before expanding to Italy in 2022. Since 2019, KIND has also advocated for European law, policy, and practical measures consistent with children’s rights and vulnerabilities, in partnership with a Brussels-based expert organization, Child Circle. During this time, I was lucky to remain part of KIND’s journey in Europe by continuing to partner with KIND in the UK and by being part of its Advisory Committee in Europe.

Last year, the conflict in Ukraine triggered Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II as millions of refugees, largely women and children, were displaced into Europe. Many of these children fled Ukraine without parental care including unaccompanied and separated children and children evacuated from alternative care settings. I supported KIND as it worked with others in the region to facilitate the provision of legal information and counseling to children and their caregivers, conduct capacity building with key frontline actors, and address the needs and challenges of children displaced from Ukraine through policy and advocacy work.


Q. Why is KIND’s work in Europe necessary?  
We live in a world where conflict, violence, disasters, and persecution are on the rise. According to UNHCR, 108.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced at the end of 2022. More than one in 74 people on Earth has been forced to flee from their homes and 40 percent of these are children, an increasing number of whom are alone. In 2022, 42,000 asylum applications were made by unaccompanied children in Europe; the most since 2016. Half of these applications were from children from Afghanistan and one in four were from Syria. These figures do not include children from Ukraine. When children feel they have no option but to flee and have no way of accessing Europe through a safe route, they take dangerous and deadly journeys. This year alone, UNICEF have estimated eleven children have died each week on one single route into Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. An estimated 100 children were killed in one shipwreck in June of this year.

Within Europe, as elsewhere, countries are tightening their borders, pushing back people at borders, denying access to territories, overseeing rapidly deteriorating reception conditions, and increasing detention of migrants. Reforms to asylum procedures within Europe are likely to mean worsening procedures and conditions including more detention at the borders of Europe, including of children. The recent Illegal Migration Act in the UK denies access to asylum for huge groups of people including unaccompanied and separated children, denying many access to the protection and support they need. Reduction in the number of legal routes into Europe and increasingly complex and inaccessible family unity procedures exacerbate the risks of harm to children trying to enter and move across Europe.

Many people and organizations, including KIND, are calling for solutions that look at the whole journey a child takes—whether in Mexico or the Central Mediterranean—and for solutions that work at scale, bringing together states, nongovernmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and the private sector. The rise in unaccompanied children is a global issue requiring global solutions and expertise.

There are many similarities for children on the move coming to Europe and the United States.  Globally, there is an increased focus on the situation of children on the move. Children need child-friendly and trauma informed lawyers to help them navigate the legal process and safeguard their best interests.

This is why KIND is needed in Europe. KIND brings global expertise in the protection of unaccompanied and separated refugee and immigrant children; a holistic, child centered, trauma informed legal and social services model; and networks of NGOs and pro bono lawyers to respond at scale to these growing numbers of children on the move.


Q: What is next for KIND in Europe?   
We are incredibly grateful to our funders and supporters who are ensuring that we are able to expand in Europe at such a crucial juncture. I am committed to ensuring that KIND continues to play its role in supporting and complementing the work of others in Europe as we move forward with our incredible global team of staff, consultants, specialist NGOs, and pro bono lawyers to help us do so.

We are expanding our team in Europe, bringing on two KIND lawyers in Poland and Slovakia, to increase access to child specific migration expertise. We are also recruiting for a Director of Policy and Advocacy who will work alongside our policy teams in the United States and expert policy partner in Brussels. We have various other briefings and child-friendly tools that we will be launching over the next few months, so stay tuned!

To learn more about KIND’s work in Europe, check out our most recent fact sheet.