On 21 April, governments officials from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan discussed collaboration on protecting migrant children in Central Asia, exchanged cross-border information and case studies during an online meeting organized by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) under the EU-funded project. The discussion involved representatives from Kazakhstan’s Human Rights Commissioner, the European Union, the Regional Representation of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and UNICEF.
The discussion raised the following challenges and opportunities in protecting the rights of children in migration: ensuring children’s best interests, cross-border information exchange and case-management, access to basic services, providing alternatives to detention and child-friendly living conditions, supporting children after returning to their countries of origin and in their re-integration, strengthening document control at the border as well as the legal framework and policies in Central Asia.
In Central Asia, different levels of economic development cause widespread labour migration. The common language, history, cultural ties and traditions contribute to population movement.
“Migrant children are particularly vulnerable, since the mobility of adults does not depend on them. The task of the State is to provide an effective mechanism to exclude the criminalization of migration processes and to support the rights of children on the move”, said Elvira Azimova, Human Rights Commissioner in the Republic of Kazakhstan.
“According to Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, migrant children are, first of all, children. Moreover, as they face a double vulnerability as children and migrants, they are in need of special protection. To mitigate the consequences of migration, the EU and the UNICEF jointly implement a dedicated project aimed at children affected by migration”, noted Eduard Auer, Ambassador to EU Delegation to the Kyrgyz Republic.
Kazakhstan regulates migration by legislation and a number of programmes. The national migration regulatory and legal framework has been created on the bases of the Law on Migration and the Migration Policy Concept for 2017–2021, aiming at combating human trafficking and working with refugees and asylum seekers.
Kyrgyzstan launched an electronic case management system in 2019 which automatically redirects cases to the relevant specialists, generates an individual child protection plan and monitors the progress of the case until its closure.
“Children who are migrating across borders, like all children, have the right to be protected from all forms of violence, exploitation and abuse. The best interests of the child should be given due consideration in all decisions affecting migrating children. As an international phenomenon, migration needs close cross-border cooperation. Today, the authorities of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are coming together to identify gaps in the ways the two countries exchange information on the situation of migrating children, and to strengthen cross-border case management, including family tracing and reunification of unaccompanied and separated children”, said Arthur van Diesen, UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan.
“The Global Compact on Refugees adopted by UN Member States in 2018 stresses the importance of protecting children on the move and ensuring their empowerment and inclusion. The best interest of children must guide all actions by all authorities encountering them. All children, regardless of the legal status of their parents, have a right to a nationality, to documentation, as well as to seek international protection, and must never be detained, even in immigration procedures”, – added Hans Friedrich Schodder, UNHCR Representative for Central Asia.
Panelists also discussed the features of migration in Central Asia, case studies: operational guidelines for service providers on support to children in migration in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and the international legal regulation of migration issues.