Asylum applications for unaccompanied children

Children in asylum and migration procedures receive special attention and are subject to enhanced protection under EU legislation. This protection entails rights and guarantees specifically for children, particularly unaccompanied children. In some Member States, children have the right to apply for asylum on their own, without the input of their guardians or legal representatives. However, legislation on children’s legal capacity in asylum procedures varies across the EU and depends on prescribed age requirements.

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Key aspects

  • In 14 Member States (Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden), the minimum age at which persons have legal capacity to apply for asylum on their own is 18. Unaccompanied children can apply for asylum exclusively through a guardian or another legal representative.
  • In some of these Member States, children under 18 can submit asylum applications on their own, under certain circumstances. In the Czech Republic, for instance, legislation allows children to apply for asylum independently, depending on their maturity. However, in practice, authorities always insist that guardians or representatives lodge the application. In Estonia, children can independently apply for asylum if they are at least 15 years old and if a court decision grants them legal capacity, or if they are likely to attain the age of maturity before the authorities decide on their application. In other Member States, such as Sweden, children under 18 can register their applications on their own, but the application should be confirmed by their guardian or legal representative.
  • In 10 Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal and the United Kingdom), unaccompanied children – even if they have a guardian or a legal representative appointed by national authorities – can apply for asylum on their own behalf, without any minimum age requirements set by relevant legislation. However, general rules on legal capacity to act in procedures apply.
  • The Netherlands recognises that children at the age of 12 do not have to depend on a guardian or a legal representative to apply for asylum. In Hungary and Romania, the minimum age to apply independently is set at the age of 14 and in Greece, at 15.

Legal background

Since 1999, the EU competences in the area of asylum and migration have increased and they are being exercised, according to the relevant provisions of EU primary law. The aim is to establish a common European asylum system and a common immigration policy for Europe (Articles 78 and 79 of the TFEU). In this context, Article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights guarantees the right to asylum, with due respect to the Geneva Convention.

Article 7 of the Asylum Procedures Directive states that EU Member States must ensure that a child has the right to make an asylum application either on their own behalf, according to the national legislation on legal capacity to act in procedures, or through a person responsible for them. The same rule is included in the proposal of the Commission (COM(2016) 467 final) for an Asylum Procedures Regulation (Articles 31 and 32). Given that Member States have the competence to determine legal capacity issues, it lies within their power to define under which conditions children could apply for asylum on their own. National legal regulations often draw a distinction between unaccompanied and accompanied children.