In a striking development, the European Union witnessed a nearly threefold increase in unaccompanied minors seeking asylum between 2020 and 2022, with Finland reflecting this trend. Children constituted about a quarter of all residence permit applicants in Finland last year, highlighting a growing concern across Europe.
Today's conference by the European Migration Network (EMN) focuses on enhancing the assessment of a child's best interests in immigration procedures.
This comes amid rising immigration and a heightened emphasis on children's rights within EU immigration policies.
Eurostat data reveals that EU Member States and Norway received over 79,000 asylum applications from unaccompanied minors in this period, with the figures soaring from 13,620 in 2020 to 40,175 in 2022. Furthermore, in 2022, more than 1.5 million children in the EU and Norway were under temporary protection, including nearly 9,000 unaccompanied minors.
Jutta Saastamoinen, a senior specialist at the EMN, points out the high proportion of children among those fleeing conflicts, such as the recent exodus from Ukraine. She notes the increasing instances where children and parents are separated due to international migration.
The upcoming "Children in Migration" report by EMN, scheduled for late 2023, highlights the vulnerability of unaccompanied minors to exploitation. The European Commission advises swift appointment of guardians for these minors to prevent risks like disappearance or human trafficking.
The report also indicates significant variations in the EU regarding guardian appointment procedures for minors. Many member states are adopting new practices to enhance the collaboration between government ministries and support the work of guardians, expanding minors' rights to appointed guardians or other support.
In Finland, the Finnish Immigration Service is revising its guidelines to better consider the child's best interests. Despite the Finnish Aliens Act mandating attention to the child's welfare, the practical application of this principle remains challenging.
A key conference hosted by the EMN on 10 November 2023 aims to explore improvements in considering children's best interests in Finnish immigration processes. This event will also increase awareness of how child interests are currently assessed in Finland.
The conference will feature Finnish authorities, researchers, and experts by experience, with panel discussions involving representatives from the Finnish Immigration Service and the Ministry of the Interior.
The EMN report acknowledges delays in processing asylum applications by minors in the EU, attributing this partly to the complexity of assessing a child's best interests in immigration contexts. It highlights the need to align with international norms and national legislation in these assessments.
The Council of Europe guidelines and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by 196 countries including Finland, emphasize prioritizing the child's position. Professor Helen Stalford from the University of Liverpool, a keynote speaker at the conference, questions the practical realization of these principles in advancing the rights and interests of child migrants.
Stalford underscores the critical need for a collective reflection among researchers, policymakers, justice professionals, and migrant children on improving decision-making processes in light of the increasing and often devastating impact of child migration.