“Challenges faced by unaccompanied migrant children are growing” – President

(left to right) Aagje Leven (Missing Children Europe), Jamil Addou (EASO), Mina Tolu (AD MEP Candidate), Federico Soda (IOM), Caterina Chinnici (S&D MEP), President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca

The President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said that “challenges faced by unaccompanied migrant children are growing” during her key-note address at the third Lost in Migration Conference in Valletta earlier this evening. She also pointed out that the world is far from achieving the full potential of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child “especially in regards to migrating children,” adding that the rate of solving missing migrating children cases is decreasing.

The Lost in Migration conference has over the last three years garnered the reputation of being a renowned forum for experts from all over the world meeting together with the final aim of helping push for a proactive response in terms of the protection of unaccompanied migrants and child asylum seekers. This year’s conference is being organised at the Valletta University Campus by The President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society and Missing Children Europe.

In the words of the President, this year’s conference is seeking to put further pressure on “the relevant authorities … the European and international community … so as to address the horrendous situation where thousands of children go missing on European soil.”

Coleiro Preca spoke harshly on the current legislative and political situation which is leading to tens of thousands of children to be more vulnerable. “We must address the unacceptable lack of efficient national protection systems, and the ineffective solidarity being shown amongst the EU Member State when it comes to the protection of migrating children,” she said. The President also added that the current situation has the “direct consequence of leaving our children more vulnerable to violence, exploitation, trafficking, and abuse.”

‘6 lives a day lost while crossing Mediterranean in 2018’ – UNHCR

While calling on politicians to make more long-term commitments on protection, the President spoke of Mohammed, a 7-year-old Syrian boy who’s face when he finally met his uncle and paternal family she will never forget. She also spoke of the Miniila app, which Missing Children Europe launched in April 2018 providing real-time and region-specific information about essential services to children in their own language.

The future of children in migration in Europe

The President, along with Aagje Leven from Missing Children Europe then moderated a panel discussion about ‘The future of children in migration in Europe’. The Panel was made up of AD MEP Candidate Mina Tolu; S&D MEP Caterina Chinnici; Director of the International Organisation for Migration Coordination Office for the Mediterranean Federico Soda; and EASO Executive Director Jamil Addou. There was also a video address by ALDE MEP Hilde Vautmans.

Mina Tolu criticised the way that compromises which MEPs come to in the European Parliament are then stalled when the discussion reaches the Council. “Why are heads of state of all member states not able to reach compromises when they are representing the same parties we are seeing in the European parliament?” Tolu asked. “It is unacceptable that heads of states play political games between each other on people’s lives,” added the MEP Candidate, hoping “to see more work from the European Council to move ahead with the Common European Asylum System”.

Meanwhile, while going through the S&D agenda from the past mandate, Caterina Chinnici read out a statement with the final sentiment that “a child is first and foremost a child regardless of their migration status”. The MEP called on Member States to step up in terms of improving communication with European agencies and the Institutions themselves. “We need a new vision as we are coming close to elections,” she said adding that her personal wish is for the Convention to be used by States as a reminder that they should always keep the best interest of the child in mind.

Remove child migrants from detention centres – UNHCR

The push for the convention and the criticism of the Institutions apparent lack of efficiency was carried on by Hilde Vautmans who outlined a number of priorities for the EU. The MEP said that: no child should fall through the cracks of legal protection; that the detention of minors is unacceptable; that all children must be well-informed; more and correct data on the situation needs to be more available; all proceedings need to be efficient and child friendly; and finally traffickers must not go unpunished. She reiterated that there is a long way to go, but that the next step is to push for a common European asylum system and to revise the Dublin regulation.

Federico Soda explained the complexity of the situation at hand, pointing out that there were over 60 nationalities of migrants registered within the central Mediterranean alone ranging from Senegal to Bangladesh to Colombia. He too blamed failures in the EU’s system, “tens of thousands of children are travelling long distances through multiple countries and somehow they’re not detected until they’re plucked out of the sea.” The legal frameworks in place were said to not by fit for purpose, worrying more about which legal label to assign to which migrant and the distinction between rights and protections, which is “not really what the tools we have were actually designed for”.

EASO’s Jamil Addou meanwhile spoke about how the agency’s agenda has had children’s rights on it since day one, starting with a team of 10 child protection specialists and growing into a staff of over 800 people at present. EASO’s mission, said Addou, is to make sure that legislation translates into practice, with the same understanding of legislation in every Member State. “We are a long way from achieving this and a lot is left to be done,” he said, “and the political climate is not helping”.