Representatives of various national, European and International organisations gathered on 26 February in Brussels to discuss how to improve the rights of children in an irregular migration situation.
According to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, the term "irregular migration" typically refers to the cross-border flow of people who enter a country without that country’s legal permission to do so. Likewise, the term "irregular migrants" refers to migrants in a country who are not entitled to reside there, either because they have never had a legal residence permit or because they have overstayed their time-limited permit.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, François Crépeau, has repeatedly stated that "irregular migration is not a crime per se". According to him, "there is no threat to anyone or anything" and "as long as we don’t decriminalize irregular migration, migrants will suffer and especially migrant children.”
The conference organised by the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) aimed at bringing together experts on irregular migration and children’s rights. Part of their concerns relate to the limited access to education, healthcare and housing of migrant children, in particular of those who are undocumented and irregular.
According to Maria Amor from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the European Union (EU) has already developed key legislative and policy developments in addressing the situation of children by introducing article 24 on the rights of the child in the Charter of fundamental rights.
However, she also revealed findings of EU-wide research done by the agency on the access of migrant children to education, healthcare and housing in the various member states.
According to the information provided, the situation in Europe is inconsistent- only eight member states provide all family members (irregular migrants) with healthcare beyond emergency, including Germany, France, Portugal and Italy. On the other side of the coin are Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Lithuania where irregular migrant children and their families are entitled only to emergency healthcare. In addition, in many member states the access of children to healthcare services is subject to certain conditions.
As regards housing, Amor explained that the difficulties in renting shelter to irregular migrants is spread among several member states, in particular, Germany where landlords who rent a house to irregular migrants have to fulfil certain conditions first.
Last but not least, when it comes to education, the research of FRA shows that the majority of EU member states provide free access for all children to education, whether explicit or implicit. Still, however, in countries such as Sweden, Bulgaria and Hungary, not all children have free access to public schools.
One of the main issues discussed during the event in Brussels was that currently there are no precise figures showing the number of undocumented children in the EU. However, a recent study published by the University of Oxford revealed that in the United Kingdom alone in 2011, there were 120,000 undocumented children.
These children face a triple vulnerability as migrants, as undocumented migrants, and as children. The experts also expressed concern that the basic principle according to which "undocumented children should, first and foremost, be treated as children" is often neglected.
The EU's position on this matter is clear: according to the home affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, it is paramount that all EU member states do what they can to follow the basic principle and protect migrant children.
In order to facilitate the work of policy makers, public officials and all groups involved into the securing undocumented children's access to basic social rights in Europe, PICUM launched its newest guide to realising the rights of children and families in an irregular migration situation. The guide is intended to showcase the legal rights of undocumented children and provides tools and strategies to fulfill those rights.