EMN-Seminar - Best interest of the child in migration processes
Summary and presentations
The Finnish national contact point for the EMN organized a seminar - The Best Interest of the Child in Migration Processes - on the 6th of May in the premises of the Finnish Immigration Service in Helsinki. The seminar gathered an audience of 100 persons, consisting of government officials, practitioners, NGO representatives and members of academia.
The starting point for the seminar was the EMN study on"Policies, Practices and Data on Unaccompanied Children in 2014" and EMN wanted to approach the subject from many different angles in order to gain a good overview, e.g. practitioners from the Finnish Immigration Service, legal guardians of children and international actors, such as the Red Cross. The key note address of the seminar was held by Ms. Anaïs Faure Atger, Senior Migration Adviser of the Red Cross EU Office. She is very experienced in upholding the best interest and the rights of the child in migration contexts. She stressed in particular the vulnerability of children, who have fled their homes because of conflict and have become separated from their families. They are faced with new and frightening situations, which must be taken into account especially in the reception of asylum seekers. The detention of children and the transition phase from child to adult, when the child turns 18 years of age were two issues that she highlighted as problematíc. The child needs particular attention up to the age of 25, especially if he/she has had traumatic experiences in his/her childhood.
Nataliya Nikolova represented the EMN service provider, ICF International, and she is responsible for drafting the synthesis report of the EMN study on "Policies, Practices and Data on Unaccompanied Children in 2014". The report contains information on the national practices by Member States regarding unaccompanied minors. The study distinguishes between unaccompanied minor asylum seekers and other unaccompanied minors. In Finland, basically all unaccompanied minors apply for asylum, but in other Member States the distinction between unaccompanied minors who apply for asylum and those who do not is very relevant, as there are a significant number of unaccompanied minors who do not apply for asylum in some Member States. In her presentation she highlighted good practices from different countries and demonstrated that the number of unaccompanied minors coming to the EU is rising.
Professor Eskil Wadensjö from the University of Stockholm presented a quantitative study on unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in Sweden. Among other things, the participation of unaccomapanied minor asylum seekers in basic education and the later positioning in the labour market was examined.
Research director Elli Heikkilä from the Migration Institute presented a qualitítative study, the Halaten-project (From a vulnerable childhood to solid adulthood) on unaccomapanied minors in the Turku-region. In the study, 13 youths who have come to Finland as unaccompanied minors were interviewed as well as 8 experts on the subject.
After lunch, Senior adviser Johanna Räty presented the recently published guidelines on the best interest of the child by the Finnish Immigration Service. The aim of the guidelines is to give officials at the Finnish Immigration Service, and also others a comprehensive overview on how to best take the interest of the child into account in case processing.
Next in line was a panel discussion by national experts on the theme of the seminar. The participants were
Minna Lähteenmäki Finnish Refugee Council
Anne Alitolppa-Niitamo Centre of Expertise onIntegration, Ministry for Employment and the Economy
Eeva-Maria Nieminen Finnish Immigration Service
Jukka Kursula Legal guardian of children
Juha Rautiainen Administrative Court of Helsinki
Merike Helander Office for the Ombudsman for Children
Anna-Maria Tapaninen Researcher, University of Eastern Finland
The panelists were allowed to comment on five case studies from the view of the best interest of the child. The cases were fictitious, although they represented issues that the Finnish Immigration Research deals with on a regular basis. The case studies highlighted both for the panelists and the audience how complex and difficult it is to decide on the cases from the viewpoint of the best interest of the child. The audience could participate in the discussion by voting on how they would decide on the cases. During the panel discussion, forensic dentist, Dr Vivian Visnapuu, told the audience and the panelists how a forensic age determination is performed on an unaccompanied who claims to be a minor. Her intervention as well as those from the panelists, sparked a lively debate among the participants.
In the end, a sum-up of the seminar was provided by Ms. Mirjam Kalland, rector of the Swedish School of Social Science at the University of Helsinki, who in her previous job worked for the Mannerheim League of Child Welfare with childrens' issues. In her comments, she also stressed the complexity of the issues involved, and picked up on the comment by Anaïs Faure Atger, that children must have the possibility to be children, and especially unaccompanied minors need more support and for a longer period of time in their new country of residence.
Presentations of the seminar (in English)
Red Cross EU Office - Activities towards unaccompanied minors
Eskil Wadensjö ja Aycan Celikaksoy: "Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Refugee Children in Sweden: An Outlook on Demography, Education and Employment"