Planning for the return of separated children seeking asylum: an inter-country social service perspective.

Author:Crowe, Sarah


A variety of circumstances contribute to an increasingly large number of minors who leave family, home, and country to seek asylum on foreign soil. They present special challenges to state and local authorities, to relevant non-governmental agencies, and to the international community. This paper considers the planning needs for these minors for whom asylum is denied and for whom return to country of origin needs to be arranged. The paper highlights the need for a social service perspective, such as provided by International Social Service, to be included in the planning process.


As the world becomes increasingly globalized and new migration patterns emerge, the phenomenon of escalating numbers of separated minors seeking safe havens or asylum requires special consideration by the relevant authorities. (1) While states have always seen the arrival of separated or unaccompanied minors, the new challenge is both to manage the large numbers of minors and to provide a range of services to ensure their safety, well-being, and basic human rights. Many of these children have escaped war, civil strife, economic hardship, and uncertain futures. Others have left on their own initiative or with parental assisted exile, with the result that many have become victims of trafficking, smuggling, and exploitation. Many of these children arrive with high expectations, not realizing that the countries in which they are seeking to live have established barriers which can place them at risk of marginalization and continued hardship. These minors have experienced anxiety in leaving their family and home country, trauma from their travel, and uncertainty upon arrival. They are children without legal status or guardians. They are children at risk and in need of protection. Ultimately, a decision will be made for each of these minors: they will be granted legal status in the host country or receiving country; they will receive temporary humanitarian refugee permits; they will be reunified with family members in other countries; or they will be returned to their country of origin.

This paper will consider the planning needs for minors whose asylum is denied or for whom repatriation is determined to be in their best interest. A social service perspective needs to be part of the planning, as it can provide governments and relevant authorities with information and support mechanisms, and can help implement the return of these children to their country of origin and the provision of follow-up services when their asylum claims are denied. International Social Service (ISS) is an international NGO dedicated to assisting children and families in migration. From an historical perspective, ISS experience in dealing with separated minors demonstrates that the safe and properly planned return of children is possible to effect.

Planning Considerations

For minors whose asylum claim is denied, planning for their return needs to be completed with care, sensitivity, and with their best interest as the primary consideration. Returning minors to their country of origin can be expected to create high anxiety, a sense of failure, and a loss of hope for their future. The need for inter-country co-operation is essential in planning for the return of separated minors seeking asylum. (2) For some children, migration return may be relatively uncomplicated. The family welcomes their return and it is safe to return. For others, however, return migration is highly stressful and traumatizing. Guided by the principles outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the guidelines in UNHCR and Save the Children's Separated Children in Europe Programme Statement of Good Practice, the international community is called upon from both a policy standpoint as well as at a practice level to provide the resources necessary to respond to children's safety and well-being. Many issues need to be addressed. When should the planning for returns begin? What considerations should be made to contact the family in the country of origin? How should it be facilitated? What services need to be in place to assist the minor for possible return? Should responsibility for these children extend beyond the return of a child to his/her country of origin? How can the minor be helped to return with a sense of security and possibilities for the future? Could a risk assessment, as well as a follow-up procedure, be in place to ensure the safety of asylum-seeking children who are found to be ineligible to remain in the country of destination? Co-operation between immigration authorities and competent child welfare authorities and the relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is essential in addressing the needs and issues concerning these separated minor asylum-seekers.

An ISS Perspective: An Individual Approach

International Social Service (ISS) came into being as a result of vast migration following WWI. This organization has been involved with cases relating to separated minor asylum seekers since its origins in 1924. Emerging from the crises of these migrations, through their social work focus for wartime refugees, ISS adopted a...

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