Child refugee in Europe

An Integrated Approach

Legal Protection of Unaccompanied Children in Europe

Hundreds of thousands of children without their parents or guardians are on the move in or on the edge of Europe and in the United Kingdom. Most of these children have fled traumatic situations in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. They are alone, frightened, and unable to protect themselves. These children are vulnerable to abuse, neglect, violence, trafficking, smuggling, and exploitation. Many do not speak the local language of the countries in which they find themselves.

While many of these children are eligible to receive basic services, including housing, health care, education, and limited legal assistance, most either do not know their rights or are unable to exercise them. Without trusted and reliable sources of information about how to get help, these children become prey to smugglers and traffickers as they move through different countries.

Feature Resource

Providing Protection to Unaccompanied Children in Europe

KIND achieves safety and stability and secures rights for unaccompanied children in Europe through high-quality legal assistance, capacity building, and advocacy. Children are increasingly seeking safety in Europe, driven from their home countries by conflict and other violence, persecution, discrimination, and extreme hardship; some children arrive alone, while others are separated from their family in […]

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VELKE SLEMENCE, SLOVAKIA - MARCH 09: Refugee children fleeing Ukraine are given blankets by Slovakian rescue workers to keep warm at the Velke Slemence border crossing on March 09, 2022 in Velke Slemence, Slovakia. More than two million people have fled Ukraine into neighboring countries since Russia launched a large-scale invasion of the country on February 24. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Feature Resource

Note on Unaccompanied Children Fleeing from Ukraine

This joint report, by Child Circle and KIND, aims to serve the efforts of the many stakeholders who are working together under a common EU framework of measures, by providing an overview of key issues to consider in particular from the perspective of procedural safeguards and access to protection and safety.

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KIND is adapting its pro bono model to expand legal assistance to children alone and on the move in Europe.

The legal needs of unaccompanied and separated children in Europe are myriad and change from country to country. They can range from challenging their conditions of detention, obtaining a form of international protection status, applying to be reunified with their family, or accessing services to which they are entitled. The sheer scale of these legal needs far outstrips current levels of legal assistance provided by state-sponsored legal aid programs, non-governmental organizations, or other sources.

KIND has adapted its U.S.-based pro bono model to expand legal assistance to children on the move in Europe. In partnership with leading local non-profit organizations, we have developed four pro bono projects that respond to the context and needs of unaccompanied children locally.

Where we are working

Map of Greece with orange background


In Greece, working with European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL), KIND is helping unaccompanied children living in unsuitable and unsafe conditions within refugee camps to apply to be reunified with family in other EU countries, challenge incorrect age determinations, and prepare for asylum interviews.

Map of France with orange background


In France, working with the Alliance des Avocats pour les Droits de l’Homme (AADH), KIND is helping unaccompanied children to access effective pro bono legal assistance.  Pro bono lawyers are trained and supported to assist children in matters including applications for international protection and family reunification or legal actions to uphold children’s rights in the juvenile justice system or to exercise their rights to residence, housing or healthcare.


In Ireland, working with the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) and the Irish Refugee Council (IRC), KIND is helping unaccompanied children who have been granted asylum to reunite with their families.  By training pro bono lawyers to guide children through the family reunification process, the project addresses a growing gap in legal services that is currently excluded from the scope of state legal aid.

map of Belgium with orange background


In Brussels KIND is partnering with Child Circle, a non-profit with expertise in children’s rights in migration, to contribute to advocacy discussions at EU level in order to shine a spotlight on the central role of legal advisers to advance protection for unaccompanied children and the need for further EU and national action to strengthen legal assistance.



Map of Italy with orange background


KIND has been working in Italy since early 2022 in partnership with the Italian Refugee Council and the pro bono legal community, providing children at the border with Slovenia and in Rome with legal assistance and essential information about their rights. KIND also works with the Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights, Progetto Diritti, and the Association of Ukrainian Women in Italy to support children and families from Ukraine in Italy with a range of legal needs.

Map of Poland with orange background


With support from KIND, European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL) expanded its work into Poland to provide legal assistance to children displaced from Ukraine. Since this work began in 2022, ELIL helped more than 1,200 individuals with assistance from six pro bono law firms.   

KIND is expanding its legal assistance to unaccompanied and separated children in Poland in 2023. 


Kids in Need of Defense UK

Helping children alone navigate the legal system in the United Kingdom

In collaboration with the Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit within the Islington Law Centre in London, JustRight Scotland, Coram Children’s Legal Centre, and Central England Law Centre, Kids in Need of Defense reaches children in London, the Midlands, and Scotland and has:

  • provided legal representation to 408 individuals
  • achieved 198 individual grants of citizenship or ability to remain
  • achieved 99% success in all cases where we have had a decision
  • trained more than 500 lawyers; more than 300 working on cases

Kids in Need of Defense UK is working with 13 law firms and Microsoft (see below). It is also pleased to be welcoming the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit as is its newest hub.

Partners in the United Kingdom

DLA Piper LLPAllen & Overy LLPSkadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
Baker McKenzie LLPRopes and Gray LLPCovington & Burling LLP
Shearman and Sterling LLPReed Smith LLPAshurst LLP
Arnold and Porter LLPGowling WLGHogan Lovells LLP
Dechert LLPDentons LLP


How Pro Bono Lawyers Can Help Unaccompanied and Undocumented Children in Europe Gain Safety and Stability

KIND Participates in PILnet Panel on the rights of unaccompanied children in Europe. Lisa Frydman, KIND’s Vice President for International Programs, moderated the program.

Photo by Israel Fuguemann/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Feature Post

New UNICEF Report on Children Displaced from Ukraine Says Legal Assistance is Key to Protection

The conflict in Ukraine has triggered Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II with at least 1.9 million refugee children registered in Europe. Many of these children are living away from their parents and their irreplaceable love and care. They include unaccompanied and separated children and children evacuated from alternative care settings in Ukraine.   […]

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Feature Post

Updates on KIND’s work in Europe

Updates on KIND’s work in Europe: 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 […]

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Feature Resource

European Initiative Fact Sheet

Through its new European Initiative, KIND will help unaccompanied children in Europe access free legal assistance, using its more than 10 years of success in providing pro bono representation to over 18,000 unaccompanied children in the U.S., Central America and the U.K.

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Feature Resource

Briefing Paper and Key Recommendations Concerning Measures at EU Borders for Unaccompanied Children

Child Circle and Kids in Need of Defense (“KIND”) share a summary of core recommendations below on what measures should be in place at the EU borders as regards unaccompanied children.   This briefing paper identifies how, from the border onwards, States should fulfil the obligation to identify, protect and assist these children, and find durable […]

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