Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

Unaccompanied and separated asylum seekers turning 18

“At least in prison we have a place to sleep,” said Milen Eyob Fessehaye, a young Eritrean refugee in Sweden, speaking on behalf of a group of young unaccompanied refugees and asylum seekers in Europe who lost all support when they reached the age of adulthood.

Ms Fessehaye was speaking at a workshop in Paris today, hosted by PACE’s Migration Committee, to launch the results of a programme of joint field research by UNHCR and the Council of Europe Youth Department on the particular difficulties faced by unaccompanied asylum-seeker and refugee children when they turn 18. This follows the adoption of the Assembly’s resolution on “Unaccompanied migrant children: what rights after 18?”

On the basis of desk research and field visits, including individual testimonies, the joint study highlights the lack of information about this critical moment of change, when young migrants suddenly lose all the special guarantees they enjoyed as children.

“At midnight, on that 21th birthday, suddenly you become an adult and this means you are on your own,” said the young Eritrean. “You do not have a contact person. It is almost impossible to find someone who is responsible. So turning 21 is not fun at all.” She then gave an overview of the educational, professional and social challenges which still need to be addressed for young unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees in Europe today.

“There should be a transition phase for these people to become autonomous,” said PACE’s Rapporteur on this issue, Mailis Reps. “It’s very important to recognise the vulnerability but also the potential of young unaccompanied asylum-seekers and refugees,” she said, adding that the work of PACE and the Migration Committee event today were strong first steps in this regard.