Missing refugee and migrant children in Europe
Reply to Recommendation
| Doc. 15202
| 16 December 2020
- Committee of Ministers
- Adopted at the 1391st meeting
of the Ministers’ Deputies (8 December 2020). 2021 - First part-session
- Reply to Recommendation
- : Recommendation 2172
The Committee of
Ministers has carefully examined Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 2172 (2020)
on “Missing refugee and migrant children in Europe”.
It has forwarded it to the Steering Committee for the Rights of
the Child (CDENF), to the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC)
and to the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human
Beings (GRETA), and communicated it to the Special Representative
of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees for information.
2. The Committee of Ministers welcomes the continued attention
given by the Assembly to the protection of refugee and migrant children
in Europe, which remains a priority for the Organisation. It underlines
the necessity to provide special protection to these children in
view of their vulnerable situation stemming from multiple grounds,
as children, as people fleeing war or violence, and in view of the
fact that, often, they are unaccompanied or separated from their
families. The special protection to be provided to children is widely recognised
in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and includes,
among many others, specific safeguards in respect of reception conditions,
alternatives to immigration detention, respect for family life,
as well as border and return procedures with primary consideration
of the best interests of the child. There is also a wealth of case
law about member States’ positive obligations to prevent harm to
children more generally, and possibly also to prevent harm which
could result from children disappearing from specialised care facilities
or reception centres.
3. With regard to paragraph 3 of the Assembly’s recommendation,
the Committee of Ministers recalls that the completion of the implementation
of the Action Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children (2017-2019)
resulted in concrete protection measures aiming to prevent children
from going missing. These include practical tools to promote child-friendly
approaches in communicating with children and in interacting with
them throughout migration and asylum-related procedures.
4. Other relevant work was also carried out under the Action
Plan, such as that of the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH)
in view of promoting alternatives to immigration detention, as well
as its ongoing work on family-based care arrangements for refugee
and migrant children.
5. Furthermore, based on information provided by State Parties
to the Lanzarote Convention, the Lanzarote Committee adopted on
6 June 2019 an evaluation report of the measures taken following
the five “urge” recommendations of its Special Report on “Protecting
children affected by the refugee crisis from sexual exploitation
and sexual abuse” from 3 March 2017. The report concluded that 33
European States have complied with all five “urge” recommendations,
yielding a selection of good practices, which can further inform exchanges
of information and experiences. The Secretariat of the Lanzarote
Committee is currently preparing a “checklist” to help practitioners
dealing with children on the move in reception, transit and destination countries
to know what the Lanzarote Convention requires States to do and/or
to have in place to prevent sexual violence against children on
the move; to identify and provide support to any alleged victim
of such violence; and to report the suspicion of sexual violence
against children on the move and prosecute the alleged offenders.
Another pertinent contribution to preventing refugee and migrant
children from going missing are the support measures described in
the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendations CM/Rec(2019)11
on effective guardianship for unaccompanied children
in the context of migration and CM/Rec(2019)4
on supporting young refugees in transition to adulthood.
The effective national implementation of these recommendations is instrumental
in tackling protection gaps which result in migrant and refugee
children disappearances in Europe. In this respect, the Committee
of Ministers encourages the CDENF to bear in mind the recommendation
of the Assembly set out in paragraph 2.4.
7. On 2 July 2020, the Special Representative on Migration and
Refugees launched a handbook “Family reunification for refugee and
migrant children – Standards and promising practices”. Promoting
family reunification is vital to ensure respect for children’s rights
and their best interests. Furthermore, providing child-friendly
information in the context of a relationship of trust will reduce
the risks of a child running away, disappearing, going missing or
becoming victim of criminal networks. The Handbook for professionals
on how to convey child-friendly information to children in migration,
prepared in the context of the Council of Europe’s Strategy for
the Rights of the Child (2016-2021) and the Council of Europe Action
Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children (2017-2019), is
a further practical tool aimed at supporting professionals in member States
on how to accompany a child at each stage of his or her journey.
8. The Committee of Ministers was pleased to take stock of these
and other achievements of the Action Plan with the presentation
of the final report on 26 February 2020. Following this, the Committee
and the Secretary General agreed to mandate the Special Representative
on Migration and Refugees to draft a new action plan to reflect
developments and lessons learned so far in the field of migration.
A possible dimension of this new Action Plan could address the vulnerabilities
of refugees and migrants, including missing refugee and migrant
children, building on the achievements of the Action Plan on Protecting
Refugee and Migrant Children (2017-2019).
9. On 19 June 2020, GRETA issued a Guidance Note on the entitlement
of victims of trafficking, and persons at risk of being trafficked,
to international protection, which also addresses access to asylum
and more generally to protection for child victims of trafficking,
in order to break the links with traffickers and minimise the risk
of children going missing.
10. In addition, the Gender Equality Strategy (2018-2023) addresses
the particularly vulnerable situation of refugee, migrant and asylum-seeking
girls, among which is the risk to disappear in trafficking for various purposes.
The Gender Equality Commission is to start in autumn 2020 the drafting
of a new recommendation on refugee and migrant women, which may
address the existing protection gaps for refugee, migrant and asylum-seeking
women and girls.
The Committee of Ministers also refers to its reply to Recommendation 2141 (2018)
of the Parliamentary Assembly on “Family reunification
of refugees and migrants in the Council of Europe member States”
which addresses elements of protection from trafficking.
12. Finally, in light of the above, and the need to continue to
address the crucial issue of missing refugee and migrant children
in Europe, the Committee of Ministers invites the States Parties
to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking
in Human Beings (CETS No. 197), the Council of Europe Convention on
the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual
Abuse (CETS No. 201) and the European Convention on Mutual Assistance
in Criminal Matters (ETS No. 30) to bear in mind the specific recommendations
of the Assembly (paragraphs 2.1 and 2.2). Like the Assembly, the
Committee would also encourage the Congress of Local and Regional
Authorities of the Council of Europe to continue to keep this issue
on the agenda of their activities.