Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children | Young, alone, and vulnerable

While all children must be protected, some of our youngest asylum-seekers and refugees face even greater risks, such as “unaccompanied minors and separated children” – often youths who have fled alone.

There are many ways children can find themselves alone. Some become separated from family during long and dangerous journeys; others are sent alone with traffickers and smugglers by parents desperate to deliver their children to safe havens; others still are orphans. Before leaving their home country, many of these children have endured trauma, poverty, and lack of education. While in flight, they have suffered hardships and dangers. As a result, they number among the most vulnerable within the asylum community.

In Central Europe, unaccompanied and separated children represent, on average, two to three percent of all asylum claims. In some countries, this rate has risen as high as high as ten percent.

UNHCR Central Europe addresses the risks and needs of unaccompanied minors and separated children through its Age, Gender and Diversity (AGD) strategy. During the assessments, children who arrive without their parents or primary caregivers are interviewed separately, and a special methodology, which takes into consideration the children’s extreme vulnerability, is used when interviewing them.

In all planning and programming related to this group, UNHCR also applies its guidelines on preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence in order to prevent this threat to them.

UNHCR also recommends that unaccompanied minors and separated children not be placed in detention as some Central European authorities regularly do. Instead, the agency urges authorities to release these children into the care of family members who already have residency within the asylum country or make arrangements with child-care authorities. To ensure one-on-one attention and care, we also urge that a legal guardian or adviser should also be appointed for each unaccompanied minor and separated child.