Observatoire de la migration de mineurs
Minutes : International Conference

Minutes : International Conference

Minutes of the Legal seminar and the International conference

  • Opening seminar : « Legal frameworks regarding Unaccompanied Children : European and French levels »

During the seminar chaired by Florian Aumond (Lecturer in Public Law, University of Poitiers, France), Perrine Dumas (Lecturer in Public Law, University of Rouen, France), Assiogbon Koueviakoe (Lecturer in Public Law, CNFPT, France), Bekaye Diabate (PhD. Candidate, University of Poitiers, France) and Fanny Bertrand (PhD. candidate, CERAPS Université de Lille 2, France) presented the different levels of care and protection (European, national and local in various French departments) and discussed the concrete implementation of policies and their consequences on both unaccompanied children and relevant actors (whether institutional or not). 

International conference

Introductory Remarks

Cédric Audebert (CNRS Researcher, Co-director of Migrinter, France) introduced the research center MIGRINTER UMR 7301, who was hosting the project the PUCAFREU project, and in charge of the organisation of the international conference and co-financing the event. Mr. Audebert underlined the growing importance of the topic of Unaccompanied Children within the academic field and thanked all partners partcipating in this project.

Catherine Claveau (Counselor of Children’s Rights’ promotion, French Ombudsman office, France) focused on the importance to be given to Children’s rights, particularly when they are unaccompanied.

  • Conference: Unaccompanied children lacking protection in Belgium, France, Italy and Spain : results of the PUCAFREU comparative and national research

Daniel Senovilla Hernández (PUCAFREU project coordinator, Migrinter, France) presented the results of the comparative research led within the framework of the PUCAFREU project in Belgium, France, Italy and Spain. Mr Senovilla Hernandez insisted on the reasons leading to unaccompanied children’s lack of protection, such as the legal reasons, the reasons linked to the influence of the children’s entourage on this population and the practices of institutional mistreatment. 

The PUCAFREU Research Officers presented the results of the national contexts where they have conducted research. This panel was chaired by Lélia Tawfik (Project officer PUCAFREU, Migrinter, France).

Julien Blanc (Service Droits des Jeunes, Belgium) explained the ad-hoc Belgian system for “MENA” (unaccompanied foreign children); Martina Andreeva (Hors la Rue, France) described the concerning situation in Paris; Catalina Perazzo (La Merced Migraciones, Spain) focused on both Madrid and Barcelona where unaccompanied children’s profiles considerably differ; Elena Rozzi(ASGI, Italy) explained the obstacles to access to care in Turin; and finally Alexandra Adam(PARADA, Romania) and Dominique Mathieu (CNRS researcher, Migrinter, France) commonly presented fieldwork research in Bucarest and Timisoara.

Results showed a great similarity in the life conditions of Unaccompanied children when they are living outside the protection facilities, despite a multitude of systems, a variable importance of the reasons leading to exclusion depending on the country studied, and the nationality of the child. Reasons include: discrimination between children according to their legal status as asylum seekers or not,  lack of perspectives when turning 18, influence of peers, need of income, etc. Presentations generally underlined the lack of access to at least some fundamental rights in all European countries studied.

  • Plenary panel: “Unaccompanied children lacking protection in Europe: between autonomy and exploitation”

During the panel chaired by Daniel Senovilla Hernández (PUCAFREU project coordinator, Migrinter, France), and Olivier Peyroux (Independent researcher, France) focused on three groups from ex-Yugoslavia and Romania exploiting children forcing them to commit criminal activities in Western Europe’s neighboring countries and called for a better cooperation between countries in terms of child protection.

Bénédicte Lavaud-Legendre (CNRS Researcher-UMR 5114 COMPTRASEC, France) explained the reasons why sexually exploited Nigerian girls, victims of human trafficking, remain “invisible to the law” despite existing legal texts, and how victims stay under the influence of traffickers.

Finally, Francesco Vacchiano (PhD, CRIA, Portugal) discussed the theoretical notion of « agency » and its pertinence to describe the capacity of Unaccompanied children to deal with their situation and ultimate lack of protection. 

  • Conference: “Moving Children: Lacunae in Contemporary Human Rights Protections for Migrant Children and Adolescents”

Jacqueline Bhabha (Director of Research, Harvard University, USA) underlined the need of adaptation of policies and practices regarding best interest determination for Unaccompanied children, respect for family and private life, protection of fundamental economic and social rights. Ithis conference was chaired by Philippe Lagrange (Lecturer in Public Law, CECOJI, France).

  • Plenary panel: « Institutional practices leading to Unaccompanied Children’s exclusion from protection »

In a panel chaired by Katja Fournier (Coordinator Minors in exile Platform, Belgium), Antonia Di Maio (Separated Children in Europe Program, Italy) defended the necessity of  better care and the protection of Unaccompanied children’s rights during age assessment and age dispute procedures, and underlined the SCEP (Separated Children in Europe programme) recommendations in this field.

Mélanie Le Verger (Lawyer, France) developed her experience as a lawyer supporting Unaccompanied children in different French cities and underlined the importance of a transcultural approach.

Finally, Charlotte Van Zeebroeck (MENAMO Project, Belgium) iquestionned the lack of institutional reaction after four years of crisis of the reception model for Unaccompanied children in Belgium, leading to a growing exclusion of this population from protection systems, and described the advocacy initiatives in this field.

  • Plenary panel: “Informal and formal models of admittance of unaccompanied minors: outcome and shortcomings”

During the panel chaired by Ravi Kohli (Professor of Child Welfare, University of Bedfordshire, UK),Helen Connolly (Researcher, University of Bedfordshire, UK) emphasised children’s views on their asylum, resettlement experiences and private foster care in the UK.

Aoife O’Higgins (PhD candidate in Education, University of Oxford, UK) presented unaccompanied children’s opinions on their access or rather their difficulties to access to social services support in the UK.

Finally, Sofia Laiz (PhD. Candidate, ESOMI, University of La Coruña, Spain) proposed an analysis on the impact of institution programmes on the life projects of Unaccompanied minors and the various strategies deployed by these children.

  • Conference: Understanding movement and protection in the lives of unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people

In a conference chaired by Daniel Senovilla Hernández (PUCAFREU project coordinator, Migrinter, France), Ravi Kohli (Professor of Child Welfare, University of Bedfordshire, UK) introduced three domains to be considered relating to unaccompanied children’s protection: seeking safety, finding networks of care and generating a durable sense of success. Mr Kohli considered the movement of these children from practical and psychological perspectives within these domains.

  • Plenary panel: “The contrast between previous expectations and encountered reality: what consequences for unaccompanied children?”

In a panel chaired by Mélanie Le Verger (Lawyer, France), Francesco Vacchiano (researcher, CRIA, Portugal) underlined the unaccompanied children’s illusions concerning Europe and how they face the obstacles linked to the European policies to control migration flows.

Stéphanie Gernet (Pediatrician, MANA Association, France) focused on the necessary interrelation between two worlds: unaccompanied children’s biographical narratives and personal representations of professionals working with them. She also questionned the child’s status from different angles.

Finally, Nagham Hriech (Clinical Psychologist and Director of Esclavage Tolérance Zéro association) developed a presentation on the singularity of psychological conditions of unaccompanied children, through their stories of exile and isolation.

  • Final panel: International perspectives for a better protection of unaccompanied children

In a panel chaired by Jacqueline Bhabha (Director of Research, Harvard University, USA), Jyothi Kanics (Advocacy & Policy Specialist, UNICEF, Switzerland) underlined the gap between theory and practice during the process of best interest determination and presented the UNICEF/UNHCR common guidelines on this topic adressed to States’ authorities.

Zani Mamoud (Professor in Public Law, Tunisia) introduced the recent Third Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child providing a formal process of individual complaints and promoting the idea that children must be able to assert their fundamental rights.


Daniel Senovilla Hernández (PUCAFREU project coordinator, Migrinter, France) concluded the three days conference by calling for further cooperation between all actors working directly or indirectly with Unaccompanied children (educators, psychologists, lawyers, academics in different domains, institutional actors, lobbying experts, etc.) and to build links between disciplines and countries in order to strengthen knowledge, improve practionners’ skills and provide better support and protection to Unaccompanied children in Europe.