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Displaced Children Of The World: What To Know About Child Migration

Photo courtesy of Thomas Frost Jensen via Flickr

Child migration is when unaccompanied children migrate to another country or region. Whether as displaced refugees or immigrants seeking opportunities, it’s happening all over the globe, often spurred by poverty, violence or both.

A record 51.2 million people are displaced, the highest number since WWII, half of which are children. The ways governments deal with displaced children vary, as immigration law and child protection law both come into play.

Child Migration: A Global Trend

On a larger scale, child migration comes in many forms around the world as children are moved by choice or force to reunite with family members, seek employment, flee war, or escape exploitation.

In 2013, a record 25,300 unaccompanied children lodged asylum applications in 77 countries.

There are many types of migrants, child and otherwise:

  • those that are forcibly displaced, referred to as refugees
  • those that willingly move, for new opportunity, to escape trouble, or find family
  • those that seek legal citizenship, and those that attempt illegal access
  • those considered “victims,” and those considered immigrants in want of work

But when such migrants are children, especially, the lines aren’t always clear. Should such individuals be treated first as children, or as immigrants?

In America

In 2014 alone, nearly 47,000 children have fled to the United States from Central America in the most recent crisis of child migration.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”NNtKHRT18AGjfzkFk2rLSUMFdmyeE7p8″]These children, which are often alone, though sometimes accompanied by parents, are mainly from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the latter which is home to the most violent city in the world.

Violence and poverty in their home countries act as push factors, while the promise (or rumor) of a better life in the US act as a pull factor.

The Obama administration has claimed the recent wave has also been fueled by people smugglers spreading false rumors that the US was giving children legal permits to stay.

When unaccompanied minors are detained, they are questioned, examined, and background-checked. Most that choose to apply are deported, but there are other ways they can stay:

  • apply for asylum by proving fear of persecution, or for a Green Card with family members
  • file for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status by proving abandonment, neglect, or abuse
  • apply for a T Visa, which provides protected status to victims of human trafficking

Data suggests that just about half of unaccompanied minors are sent home, but new laws may raise that number. Unlike adults, children awaiting reunion with US families are housed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

In the EU

In Europe, there has also been a sharp increase in migration, with 107,000 illegal entries detected in 2013: a 48%  increase from year prior, though the amount of children, problematically, is unknown.

The rights of the child are generally put before their immigrant status in the EU, with deportation and detention as last results, but many fall through the cracks. This is addressed by a joint letter from multiple organizations to the EU urging prioritization of child rights.

Most child migrants submitting asylum applications are from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, with increasing numbers from Syria in recent years.

But because the laws vary by country, they can be inconsistent:

In France, about 1,000 child migrants a year are held in the Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport’s extraterritorial zone, where French rights do not apply to them.

Another 1,000 child migrants annually to arrive in Greece, where they are held in detention centers for months, often with strange adults, before being served orders to leave.

In some nations, children are given a guardian upon arrival, but are not always informed of this, nor does their guardian always act in their interest.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) emphasizes that in Europe, children too often become trapped in their migrant status, as they are considered incapable of making important decisions, and are unable to access their rights.

The takeaway

Both America and the EU, as popular immigrant destinations, face difficult challenges regarding policy and response to an influx of unaccompanied minors at their borders or ports.

Though approaches are different, the challenges are the same — transparency, consistency, and regard for child welfare remain vital, as does understanding the problem of displacement at its source.

Jennifer Markert