Europe needs to realise the impact of its policies on child migrants

Illegal afghan refugees Credit: Network Refugee Voices

Europe needs to address the impact of its immigration and asylum policies on child migrants and unaccompanied minors on the move, Syed Hasain from the Network Refugee Voices told

The Cultural Mediator and refugee rights activist currently living in Italy, says that there should be a change in existing policies on Europe’s Supra-national (European Union), national and local levels because they are encouraging children to become invisible, putting their lives in the abusive hands of traffickers and smugglers.

He says that more needs to be done to create a ‘fast, safe and coordinated pathway’ which gives child migrants the right information and the opportunity to choose the European country they want to seek asylum in.

For now, the European Union’s Dublin Regulation states that migrants seeking asylum in Europe must claim asylum in the first country they arrive in. Assessments of changes to the Regulation (Dublin Regulation IV) state that unaccompanied minors would be transferred around the European Union in addition to the prolonging of their asylum applications. This is seen as detrimental to their interests and a step backwards in the protection of the unaccompanied minors.  A further assessment states that the ‘threat of transfer may lead to their disappearance’.

Syed explains that in addition to the lack of a proper mechanism, traffickers and smugglers are providing tainted information to young migrants telling them of the threat of being caught and identified (finger-printed) by the authorities and being returned to the first country they arrived in. Such threats force them to trust the smuggler to take them ‘under the radar’ and to avoid the authorities.

Syed Hasain – Cultural Mediator and activist with Network Refugee Voices

Syed is one of the former child migrants who was participating in this year’s ‘Lost in Migration’ Conference discussing ways to improve protection and integration of child migrants into Europe.

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‘Once I was like you, I suffered like you’

Building trust with the young migrants is very important for helping them understand that they are safe and protected. When you have faced the same situation and can speak to them in their own language, it really helps, Syed explains.  Working as a cultural mediator, he has been able to draw on his own personal experience to help better connect with the child migrants he works with.

‘I speak Afghani, Iranian and Pakistani. I can communicate with them and tell them I was once like you, I suffered like you.  I did the same journey as you. The time might be different, the journey different, but we have similar sufferings and experiences.’

Syed recalls fleeing his home in Helmand Afghanistan when he was 10 years old. His father, a member of the Taliban, was killed and his family was preparing him to join the group when his mother intervened and helped him flee. He spent 4 years in Pakistan before making his way to Iran. Life was extreme in Iran, he says.  Afghans were facing racism and xenophobia in the country as many were starting to arrive as refugees owing to the conflict happening back home.  This meant that they weren’t recognized as refugees or legally allowed to stay. Syed was arrested along with a number of other Afghans working in a factory, deporting him from the country and ending his three and a half years in Iran.

‘Roma ostiense Station: The 2nd tent on the left is mine when I slept in the street for 3 months during the winter of 2007’
Credit: Network Refugee Voices

Speaking to a smuggler, Syed was able to arrange passage to Turkey in 2006. But to avoid being identified and returned by the Turkish police, he made the decision to go to Europe. After three days on a boat and suffering beatings from the smugglers, Syed and over 100 others made it to Greece. Reaching the country did not fill him with the confidence of the human rights values and core principles of democracy which the continent espoused.

The smugglers told him that if got caught on his journey, the police would send him back to Greece, as per the Dublin Regulation. ‘Do not trust the authorities’, they told him.  Taking their advice, Syed continued his journey ‘under the radar’, paying for passage to Italy, risking his life strapped to the bottom of a truck. Thankfully he survived and with the kindness of an Italian, he was able to start his process of asylum, integration and education in Italy.

‘Authorities are destroying trust with child migrants’

Through his work building trust with child migrants, Syed explains that it is also important that the authorities are able to adopt the same attitudes as the NGOs.

He recalls that when he accompanies a child to hospital for medical care, he tells them that as a 14 year old minor, they will not be identified. But when they arrive, the police or authorities will identify them.

‘They are doing different things, taking different actions. It’s destructive to the trust we build with the unaccompanied minors.’