Returning unaccompanied children: fundamental rights considerations

Individuals who are not entitled to stay in the European Union are typically subject to being returned to their home countries. This includes children who are not accompanied by their parents or by another primary caregiver. But returning such children, or finding another durable solution, is a delicate matter, and doing so in full compliance with fundamental rights protections can be difficult. This focus paper therefore aims to help national authorities involved in return-related tasks, including child-protection services, to ensure full rights compliance.

From a fundamental rights point of view, returning migrants to their home countries is a sensitive activity. EU Member States face particular challenges in applying the requirements flowing from EU law to unaccompanied children, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has observed. This focus paper therefore aims to support national authorities entrusted with return-related tasks in applying the Return Directive to unaccompanied children in full compliance with fundamental rights. It complements a FRA report on immigration detention of children, published in 2017.

This focus paper is structured as follows:

  • Section 1 gives an overview of the issue and of EU Member States practices.
  • Section 2 presents the ‘best interests of the child’ as an overarching principle in any action affecting children, which is also applicable in the context of returns.
  • Section 3 gives guidance on how to assess the best interests of the child.
  • Section 4 looks at two specific scenarios at the border affecting unaccompanied children, namely non-admission at the border and passing back to another Member State.
  • Section 5 describes how to implement the outcome of the best interest assessment.
  • Section 6 briefly discusses child-protection oversight and monitoring.