Unaccompanied children face a number of obstacles in accessing legal assistance, such as a lack of information, or a lack of support. The comparative report of the project Right to Justice: Quality Legal Assistance for Unaccompanied Children demonstrates that even though legal assistance is provided for by law in a number of migration and asylum procedures, it is rarely available in cases where the age of the person is disputed or during an age assessment. The availability of free legal assistance for children in all migration and asylum related procedure is crucial to guaranteeing their right to justice and access to effective remedies.
The research, examined the legislation and practice in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom and included interviews with unaccompanied children. The crucial role of guardians informing and supporting children in accessing legal assistance was evident from the research, but if guardians are not appointed quickly or if they have heavy workloads this can negatively impact children’s access to legal assistance. Belgium showed good practice in this area as the guardian plays an active role in ensuring the children effectively access to a legal advisor.
“My guardian and my lawyer were both there for my second interview [with the authorities]. It was good that they were there during the interview. When you go alone, maybe your head is not here and you cannot explain yourself well. We have no one here in Belgium, but the guardian and the lawyer, they are like a mother and father.” Unaccompanied child, 17, Belgium
Despite a number of positive initiatives and individual good practices, the report shows that even when assistance is provided, quality is affected in a number of countries by systemic factors, such as limited funding or the absence of interpretation.
As part of the project, Guiding Principles on Quality Legal Assistance for Unaccompanied Children were also developed, together with indicators to monitor the implementation of the principles.
Translation in Bulgarian, French, German, Italian and Spanish of the research’s main findings and Guiding Principles will soon be available on the project page.
The Right to Justice: Quality Legal Assistance for Unaccompanied Children is a project coordinated by ECRE in partnership with Asylkoordination Austria, British Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, Legal Clinic for Refugees and Immigrants in Bulgaria, Italian Council for Refugees, and Immigration Law Practitioners Association. UNHCR participated as an associate partner.
The project received financial support from the European Union.