Caterina Chinnici, Member of European Parliament, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament
First, I would like to thank the High Excellency the President of Malta for having hosted us in this wonderful venue and also the organizers for inviting me today. This Conference is an important discussion forum, which brings together all major organizations to cooperate and act jointly in order to identify concrete solutions for thousands of child migrants, especially those unaccompanied.
Since the beginning of my mandate as Member of the European Parliament, I have placed children and their rights at the top of my political agenda and commitment. For this reason, together with my colleague Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, we strongly wanted to set-up an intergroup entirely dedicated to children’s rights.
As already pointed out by Commissioner Avramopulos, with the work of the intergroup, which I have the honour to co-chair, we have turned the spotlight on minor’s rights, constantly monitoring that the best interests of the child was at the heart of all European policies.
During the past two and a half years, we have raised the issue of migrant children and unaccompanied minors, we did our best to make their voices heard and draw Members’ attention to their vulnerability and needs. As a result, all the political forces in the European Parliament recognize that we can no longer wait, and we must move from words to facts now.
In the last weeks and so this morning, as minister Abela has stated earlier, the Maltese Presidency is committed to act on this issue; and I believe this is fundamental for building a constructive dialogue with the European Parliament to find appropriate measures to protect migrant children.
In this regard, I want to say that the Intergroup is, and will be, a strong and active ally of both the Presidency and NGOs. We should work all together in order to bring forward all our ideas and commitments.
The migration phenomenon has highlighted the weaknesses of our management. We should now recognise the fact that it is no longer an emergency but a structural phenomenon. I believe we need to come to this conclusion in order to effectively re-think the whole system, especially when it comes to the protection of the children, their dignity and their hopes for a better future.
Some of these matters have already been addressed by the conference in these two days, but please let me stress once again what my colleagues and I are focusing on in our work at the Intergroup. We believe, and we keep repeating it, that it is essential to set up priority lanes both for the reception and for the identification procedures as soon as the child arrives on our territory. Children are among the most vulnerable migrants, and this is why it is necessary that the risk assessment and the analysis of their request of protection are treated with priority. This information need to travel with the children, in order to ensure the continuation of the protection across borders, whether the child travelled regularly or not. This is particularly compelling when the child is a victim of trafficking, because any delay in this assessment can put his or her safety and rights in danger. An efficient continuation of the protection across borders and an effective cross-border cooperation among National Law-Enforcement Authorities will also substantially reduce the risk to incur in additional trauma for a child, who has already gone through experiences that no child should live.
The experience of recent years has placed well in light the existing limits, the lack of coordination, the problems of the implementation programs, different laws and national approaches in each Member State. All these elements make possible solutions even harder to achieve. In the coming months, we will face the challenge to finalise negotiations on a new legislation able to better protect unaccompanied minors, among others the Dublin Regulation. Children need to be able to apply for protection in the country where they are. This is a principle that has been endorsed by the Court of Justice and that I fully support. Faced with the possibility to be returned to another country, children often decide to abscond, with the risk of ending up in the hands of organized crime.
Preventing the disappearance of migrant children also depends on the way States operate. The lack of efficient reception systems and adequate resources to welcome children creates disparities in reception conditions, which increase their reasons to run away. It is extremely important to find alternative measures to detention: no child should be detained for his migration status.
We must also work on family reunification’s procedures, which also need to be standardized in order to facilitate the children to reach their family and consequently reduce the number of missing children. Irregular migration also raised another tragedy that we all hoped the history had erased forever: human and child trafficking. National and European officers operating at the borders must register and identify children immediately upon their arrival, registering their fingerprints and informing them of the dangers and the risk they might face. The registration with the fingerprints is the only way to make sure that children enter in the protection system. Moreover, in order to have a registration process as smooth as possible, the support of the NGOs represent an important added value, fundamental in the psychological support of the unaccompanied minor who will have to go through the process.
I believe that the only tools and solutions available to manage properly irregular migration are increasing cooperation between Member States, revising the SIS system to better handle cases of missing children, not to facilitate their return. Only in this way we can save thousands of “minor shadows” without rights and without protection.
Therefore, we need a strong sign from Member States, an initiative that could finally show the commitment of EU governments to treat all children equally in Europe and to prioritise the enhancement of their rights. I will work to push Member States to include our policy recommendations that will come out from this conference. We call for a harmonized approach to get out of the confusion that have characterized so far the EU documents, allowing also the “Dublin offices” in the Member States to better cooperate to ensure that the protection of minors continues between countries. Children have specific needs that must be addressed urgently. They cannot be placed at the same level as adults.
Last but not least, I trust this conference is the right place to launch a new idea. One of the objective of President Junker was to launch a European civil service. Last year the European Union finally set up this new civil service. Why don’t we think about using it to try to solve some of the issues related to the reception systems and the protection of unaccompanied minors?
We are all aware that we need a new approach in dealing with the migration crisis, but we could think about a temporary system where participants in the European civil service would support minors or, for example, act as their guardians or mentors. This could also help the procedures for family reunification, relocation and resettlement of these minors across the European Union. Obviously, it is fundamental to properly train all the personnel who is in contact with children.
Finally, I would like to express my great support for the outcome of this conference and all the workshops. I believe that the recommendations included in the final document will constitute an important instrument for a constructive dialogue between the European Parliament and in the Council.
I can assure you that I will work, together with the intergroup, in this direction.
Let me also take this opportunity to personally thank you for the great work you are doing to protect all children across Europe.