Since the start of the war in Ukraine more than three weeks ago, 80 unaccompanied minors from Ukraine have already registered in Belgium amid a great shortage of candidate guardians.
More than three million Ukrainian citizens have already fled the country, and some 6,000 Ukrainian refugees have already registered in Belgium, including 80 unaccompanied minors.
Most children are in the company of family members who are not their parents or enter with acquaintances, but these are not legal representatives, meaning these children and young people are given the status of unaccompanied minors. Two minors arrived alone, according to reports from Gazet Van Antwerpen.
Normally, they are immediately assigned guardians, but due to the shortage, only the eight most vulnerable cases, including teenage mothers, minors with medical problems or very young children, have been assigned a guardian.
Guardians don't physically take care of the minors, but instead provide legal and social guidance, including finding lawyers, opening bank accounts and managing financial resources.
The shortage of guardians is not a recent problem caused by the influx of Ukrainian minors but is a chronic problem that has been ongoing for years which the government is working to fix.
"At the end of 2021, the Guardianship Service launched another recruitment campaign to boost their numbers. In the process, 98 new volunteers were selected. 60 French-speaking candidates are currently following basic training. The Dutch speakers have already started," Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said in Parliament.
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Candidate guardians don't need a specific diploma, they only have to live in Belgium and be of age to apply on the Guardianship website. After applying, they have to clarify their motivation and skills during an interview process.
Extreme vigilance needed
Several politicians, including socialist Vooruit party MP Ben Segers, stressed the importance of not letting minors disappear under the radar and are concerned for their safety, as they are now at increased risk of (sexual) violence and abuse.
"Extreme vigilance is required by cities and municipalities when registering Ukrainian minors," Segers said. "We see a wave of solidarity blowing through our country to welcome people or support them financially or materially. The Guardianship Service must be able to ride this wave."
Both Segers, as well as the Children's Rights Commissioner, called on local authorities to report every Ukrainian minor who registers with a municipality or city but is not in the presence of a parent to the guardianship service immediately and to protect them against any form of violence, abuse and exploitation.
In België komen steeds meer vluchtelingen aan uit Oekraine. Minderjarigen zijn extra kwetsbaar. We vragen aandacht voor een goed onthaal en registratie bij aankomst in België, een kwaliteitsvolle opvang, psychologische begeleiding en onderwijs. https://t.co/IrgI30WBVd— Kinderrechtencommissaris (@KRCommissaris) March 16, 2022
Tweet translation: "More and more refugees from Ukraine arrive in Belgium. Minors are extra vulnerable. We ask attention for proper reception and registration upon arrival in Belgium, quality reception, psychological guidance and education."