The European Migration Network (EMN) Ireland last week produced a report detailing the policies, procedures and circumstances surrounding unaccompanied minors. Unaccompanied children can be defined as children who are not in the care of a responsible adult. The report coincides with a general upward trend in the numbers of unaccompanied minors in the EU and a decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors in Ireland. The primary reason for this was cited as economic factors.
In the report, many of the shortcomings of the system are called into question. The report accepts that major improvements have been that have addressed the specific issues faced by these children. Prior to the reforms, unaccompanied children were placed in hostel-based care. The report notes that this was wholly inadequate as it failed to recognise that the children were already in a uniquely vulnerable position and hostel-based care was unsuitable for the needs of children. The report states that the lack of regional oversight and inconsistencies in care around the country have been improved on greatly in recent years. However, the report states that more resources are required outside the Dublin region and explain that there is a lack of comprehensive data on the situation facing children in rural Ireland especially.
In recent years, TUSLA have been given the responsibility of supporting these children through foster care and residential placements. This is far more child-friendly than the hostel-style care in place before. The recent ease on the State resources (due to the reduction of unaccompanied children in Ireland) has contributed to the improvements in the system.
There is one noteworthy recommendation contained in the report in relation to family reunification. There is no policy in Ireland for the repatriation unaccompanied children however the report recommends that there be follow up family reunification as part of the after-care of children. The report concedes that this is a difficult task as these children often have a general mistrust of people and therefore are unlikely to divulge any information about their family or country of origin.
The report notes that the lack of legal status afforded to this group places them in a position of unique vulnerability. Often, the children are sent to Ireland to seek work or to reunite with family. It would seem from the report that the principle difficulty with the situation is that the unaccompanied children fall into the categories of children and immigrants. There is a natural tension therefore between the child protection concerns and the immigration concerns. It appears that greater legal recognition of the status of such unaccompanied children will afford them greater protection. It may also act to reduce their vulnerability, improve their quality of life and ensure that difficulties in regularising their status when they turn 16 are averted.