Mr. Oddbjørn Hauge
Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion
Postbox 8036 Dep
Dear Mr. Hauge,
Human Rights Watch has monitored the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children in Europe for more than three years and has published a large body of research on countries including France, Greece, and Spain. In the course of our work we specifically looked into procedures and safeguards when unaccompanied migrant children are returned to their countries of origin or a third country. Our research can be consulted at: http://www.hrw.org/en/bios/simone-troller
We note that the Norwegian government is preparing the return of unaccompanied migrant children to institutions in their countries of origin. We understand that these plans include unaccompanied children who were not granted international protection but originate from war-affected countries, such as Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq.[i] We have serious doubts that the return of children to countries with unstable or even deteriorating security situations, and where local child protection services do not exist, presents a durable solution for these children or would be in their best interest.
The Norwegian government states to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that the rationale for returning children is to stop the increasing number of children arriving to Norway. Your government further states that it has experienced a "massive influx" of unaccompanied migrant children, which totaled 1,647 new arrivals in the first 9 months of 2009, compared to 403 children for all of 2007. [ii]
We noticed that in 2006 the government of Norway provided for 7,300 children in care, and an additional 33,200 children received state assistance to prevent their placement in care. Both figures have seen a steady increase from previous years.[iii] In light of the fact that more than 40,000 children received state assistance either because they were in care or because their families were not able to care for them independently, we are puzzled by the Norwegian government's claim that the comparatively low number of unaccompanied migrant children presents a challenge for which the state has insufficient capacities. We would appreciate further explanations in this respect.
The Norwegian government further states in its response to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that it is concerned about the risks children face when they migrate and, implicitly, that the return of these children would prevent further arrivals. We would appreciate further information as to the basis of the claim that the return of children will have a direct impact on children's decision to migrate and that less children will arrive to Norway as a result. Our research in Spain suggests that there is no such link between the numbers of children returned and the numbers of children arriving. For example, the number of children arriving to Spain since 2006 has continuously dropped, although the number of children returned to their countries of origin from Spain also fell.
We are seriously concerned that the Norwegian government's rationale for returning children to their countries of origin, as stated to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, is based on migration-control considerations and not on the rights of children concerned. Norway, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is obliged to afford special protection and assistance to children deprived of their family environment (art. 20), and to consider the child's best interests as a primary factor in all actions concerning the child (art. 3).
We would appreciate receiving additional information with regards to the procedures and safeguards that apply when a decision about a child's return is made. We therefore kindly ask you to share with us further information on the following questions:
- Who makes the final decision on whether a child is to be returned?
- Which agency or person(s) assesses the best interest of the child in such a return decision? How does this agency or person(s) relate to the government body deciding on return? Is the agency's/person's independence guaranteed?
- What criteria are applied for such a best interest assessment?
- Is the child assisted by a guardian and lawyer during the decision-making?
- What legal recourses does the child have to challenge the government's return decision? How is the child's access to these legal recourses guaranteed?
Finally, with regards to Afghanistan in particular, we are deeply concerned that the Norwegian government considers returning children to an institution funded by Norway for that purpose. We kindly ask you to explain how many children are considered for return to Afghanistan; where the institution accommodating them would be located; who would be in charge of managing such an institution for returned children; what the relationship will be between the agency managing the institution and the Afghan government; and how you will prevent that such an institution, which we understand is accessible to all children, will not create an incentive for parents to abandon their children. We would also like information on what efforts and assessments are made to reunify children with their families or extended relatives.
We are confident that you have already considered these questions and welcome your response to our concerns and questions at your earliest convenience.
Children's Rights Division
Children's Rights Division
[i] "Establishing Care Centers in the Home Countries of Unaccompanied Minor Asylum Seekers," Norwegian Ministry of Labour, Press Release No. 80, June 10, 2009, http://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/aid/Press-Centre/Press-Releases/2009/establishing-care-centres-in-the-home-co.html?id=565347&epslanguage=en-GB# (accessed February 5, 2010).
[ii] Written Replies by the Government of Norway to the List of Issues Prepared by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Connection with the Consideration of the Fourth Periodic Report of Norway, CRC/C/NOR/C/4/Add.1, November 30, 2009, page 8.
[iii] Government of Norway, Fourth Periodic Report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/NOR/4, February 28, 2008, paras. 222-223.