Mon, 29/04/2019 - 12:43
Reception. A number of unaccompanied minors request international protection. Do they follow the same reception itineraries as the rest?
They’re highly vulnerable. Youngsters reaching our borders without being accompanied by an adult have it really tough. No family member to turn to, and no money. They’re helped at reception centres as immigrant minors by the autonomous regional administrations responsible for them, and in some cases get parallel support as people seeking international protection, if they’ve been persecuted or the object of trafficking for exploitation purposes in their countries of origin, in transit or here in Europe. But this path is not free of obstacles and uncertainty as they are minors.
Unaccompanied foreign minors (MENA) have been in the news a lot in recent months, firstly as more of them are arriving in Catalonia, one of the reasons being the closure of Italian borders, but unfortunately also because of the reaction from certain groups of local people who have threatened the reception of these youngsters.
There are more and more accounts of young people who have left their countries of origin in search of a place where they have better employment prospects. This is the case among the largest group, of Moroccan nationality, but there are also cases of minors fleeing persecution and sexual and labour persecution who have reached Europe via organised networks to be exploited sexually, for work or for other ends. These minors can request international protection.
Detection of young people who could have the right to asylum
Anna Figueras, head of legal services with the Catalan Refugee Aid Commission (CCAR), one of the entities handling international protection requests from young people; tells us: “Minors arrive in two ways: through the door of the CCAR itself or from reception centres, where they are under the charge of the Government of Catalonia body responsible for them, the Directorate General for Child and Adolescent Care (DGAIA)”.
“If their circumstances mean they may require international protection, the process starts to request asylum”
“In the case of minors living rough in Barcelona who come to the CCAR office because they’ve heard about the entity, we refer them to street educators, who only exist in Barcelona and who help them with the legal formality to determine if they are minors. If the resolution is that they are, they embark on an itinerary under the guardianship of the DGAIA. At the same time, if the CCAR considers they may need international protection, the process starts to request asylum”, continues Figueras.
For youngsters at reception centres who may be able to request international asylum, a networked approach by the professionals working with them enables cases to be identified. Work then begins to help the young person decide if they wish to request asylum. One example is with possible cases of sexual exploitation, where entities such as the SICAR are involved, providing not just legal support but also social and psychological help.
“Repair and not getting sent back are the main advantages of asylum requests among minors”
Laura Castro, one of the SICAR’s lawyers, explains a situation which is often repeated: “Trafficking networks capture girls (and also some boys) already exploited or at risk in their countries of origin and bring them here to be exploited sexually. At the airport, one of the main points of entry, minors are abandoned by those accompanying them and end up in reception centres.
Once there, they contact them again and if that contact is not intercepted in time they end up back in the exploitation network. In 2018, SICAR handled 13 cases of unaccompanied minors who requested international protection due to human trafficking.
International protection requests by minors
Both Anna, from the CCAR, and Laura, from the SICAR, agree that the main advantages represented by asylum requests are ‘repair’ and not getting sent back.
The remedy, or ‘repair’, they refer to is the process through which people who have suffered violence, homelessness, abandonment or who have even been sold by their own families, can start to get back on their feet. These are psychological and social support processes which help them start to regain their dignity as people, previously denied to them.
Requests should be resolved in three months maximum, but that never happens
The asylum request also guarantees the minor the right not to contact their family of origin if they don’t wish to, as in some cases they’re the source of aggressions suffered (genital mutation, enforced labour and other things).
Obstacles and delays in the process
A major obstacle in applying for international protection which has now been overcome was that authorisation was required from the child’s legal guardian. This often wasn’t given, or the administration didn’t consider guardianship a necessity or it arrived late. Because of this, the CCAR made a complaint to the Ombudsperson and as a result international protection requests can now be started without the authorisation of a guardian.
There are other aspect to be resolved though. One of the most important is that international protection requests admitted for consideration must be resolved as a matter of urgency, as it’s minors in question. That means they should be resolved within three months maximum. Yet, as the lawyers from the two aforementioned organisations tell us, resolutions cap take more than a year. This often means that by the time the resolution arrives the youngsters are already over 18.
And what happens when they are of age?
Many minors who start the request process are of age by the time the resolution arrives. If they’re granted refugee status they can work, but in most cases they’re denied that status and end up in an irregular situation, without being able to work or to become autonomous. That happens because the residency permit given to them by the administration when they’re minors doesn’t come with a work permit. It’s therefore possible that they end up in a foreigner internment centre (CIE).
Organisations working with groups of minors with no parents to turn to must therefore tackle all these obstacles when it comes to minimising their suffering and maximising the chances of these youngsters having a dignified life in our country.