Migrant crisis: length of asylum procedure affects morale of migrant children
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Migrant crisis: length of asylum procedure affects morale of migrant children

In its most recent report, published on Friday, Unicef (the United Nations Children’s Fund) argues that children of migrants and refugees are experiencing the asylum procedure as a “heavy burden”. Considered to be too long, and too complex, it only serves to nurture their major concerns. The current procedure prevents them from calmly planning their future. 

Over two years, Unicef collected evidence from 170 migrant and refugee teenagers and children in Belgium. Some had come alone, travelling through hostile environments, and others with their family. The majority had been shunted from reception centre to reception centre.

All of their accounts were punctuated by war, insecurity and the difficulties of being alone. Equally came the hope of living a better life. In this sense, the unpredictability of their stay crystallises their main fears. The report stresses that nearly all of the children questioned spoke of experiencing the asylum procedure as a “heavy burden.”

A group of youngsters living in one reception centre deplored, “The procedure is far too slow. Some are having to wait four, five even six years before receiving a response. Within our particular group, some have been here for three years, and as yet received no response to their asylum application. It is not possible for us to picture our futures when living in these conditions.”

A young Moroccan, aged 17, agrees, “I cannot concentrate on my studies. I am so worried, not knowing what will become of me after the asylum procedure.”

Accommodation proves be another issue of major concern. The youngsters questioned flag up, almost unanimously, the issue of large reception centres, where tensions, fights, noise and the erratic nature of support provided, are equally elements adding to stress and anguish. A young Chechen, aged ten, explained, “It is dirty in the reception centre. There are fights all of the time. The centre is, you might say, wild and dirty. It is wild because there are sometimes problems. Such problems arise from adults – they frequently argue with each other.”

The UN agency says that the length of the procedure and the stress of waiting affects children’s general well-being, including their health and their ability to learn. It is felt that the reception procedure should be time-limited, combined with better support. Smaller facilities or indeed so-called “reception families” might also be preferred to the use of large reception centres.

In 2016, 4,960 minors, including 1,076 unaccompanied minors, sought asylum in Belgium. The equivalent figure for the total numbers of minor migrants across Europe, seeking asylum for 2016, was nearly 400,000.

Oscar Schneider
The Brussels Times