Unaccompanied migrant children and legal guardianship in the context of returns: The missing links between host countries and countries of origin In: Children on the Move

Ana Fonseca, Anna Hardy, Christine Adam



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The article addresses the issue of legal guardianship in the context of return of unaccompanied migrant children within the broader perspective of child migration. Despite their apparent greater vulnerability, unaccompanied migrant children are subject to highly politicized debates on immigration policies and child welfare systems taking place in host countries. The article suggests that discussions should move on and tackle the actual challenges faced by legal guardians in host countries, as well as countries of origin, which nowadays impede returns of unaccompanied migrant children. Difficulties should be examined in an adequate and timely manner, in line with the best interests of the child. Consistent with this proposed approach, the article discusses the role of legal guardians in the context of the return of unaccompanied migrant children, taking into consideration the relevant international instruments and standards and analysing the concrete challenges legal guardians face in the field of integration in host countries and return to and reintegration in countries of origin. The analysis draws on a review of existing literature in this area, as well as on the experience and data gathered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) through internal reviews carried out in 2009 and 2012. A comparative analysis of the situation in selected host countries and countries of origin addresses cross-cutting issues affecting legal guardians at both ends of the return process. The article concludes with a number of recommendations to overcome the current challenges, including the need for clearer standards and guidelines for legal guardians in the context of return of unaccompanied migrant children, greater operational cooperation between legal guardians in host countries and countries of origin, and, finally, a stronger possibility for unaccompanied migrant children and former unaccompanied migrant children to participate in the discussion around appropriate procedures and standards, based on their own experiences in the migration process.


International Organization for Migration