Staff from the Refugee Council’s Advocacy team contributed to a major study into best practice for returning children to their own countries if they are found not to need protection in Europe, which has been published today.
The aim of the study, published by European refugee organisation ECRE in partnership with Save the Children, is to help countries develop effective systems for returning children to countries outside of Europe, whether they are with their families or separated from their families.
The study examines the legislation and practices in 31 European countries for returning children, including both mandatory returns and voluntary schemes. The study reports both on the situation in each country and looks at specific issues, such as voluntary departure periods, access to health and education prior to return, independent assistance to unaccompanied children, detention practices, return procedures and reintegration measures.
It also looked at return and reintegration procedures and practices in 7 selected countries of return: Afghanistan, Angola, Kosovo, Morocco, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Ukraine.
The study provides a checklist to help countries develop processes for sending children back to their own countries.
The overall finding was that returning children from Europe is a complex and challenging task, particularly in terms of assessing the situation in the country of origin and therefore what their best interests are. Several countries are still in the process of developing specific practices that would allow for return of children.
Some of the key findings were:
- Contacts with the countries of return are very scarce and often limited to issuance of travel documents. The general absence of clear transnational procedures between returning countries and countries of origin and return needs to be addressed.
- For unaccompanied children, few formal procedures for the transfer of care are in place.
- There is a need for more systematic inter-agency cooperation to improve the process of return as there are many stakeholders involved in the countries concerned.
- Some reintegration programmes are available, including for children, though most programmes are more targeted at adults.
- When children return through assisted voluntary return programmes, their situation is monitored for a limited time. There is no monitoring outside the scope of those programmes.
- When it comes to children in families, most countries assume that the best interest of the child is always to remain with their parents, including in detention. Similarly, when deciding on the return of families, the individual interest of the child is rarely considered.