Today, UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein together with the Marie Meierhofer Institute for the Child (MMI) published new guidelines on the participation and consultation of children and young people in the asylum procedure. The guidelines are oriented to legal representatives, liaison officers and staff of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), which decides on asylum applications.
According to federal statistics, at the end of 2022 there were 5,695 children and young people under the age of 19 seeking asylum in Switzerland. These children and young people face many challenges. The situations that forced them to leave their homelands as well as the arduous and sometimes harrowing routes taken to reach safety have left marks. Having arrived in Switzerland, they find themselves in an unfamiliar environment with a foreign culture and language. They’ve lost contact with relatives and friends, and it may take time for their residence status to be decided. This uncertainty about the future makes many children anxious. It is therefore essential that children and young people have safe places where they can process their traumatic experiences in peace and with professional help.
Children and young people have the right to be informed on matters that are important in their lives and the right to express their opinions. This applies to the asylum procedure as well. Decisions concerning this procedure bring far-reaching consequences for a child’s life. That is why the protection, the encouragement and the participation of children in the asylum procedure must be given special consideration. The primary criterion in decision-making must be the welfare of the child. “A decision on a child’s welfare must be aligned with their rights and needs, and seeks the most beneficial alternative course of action in the long term. With these new guidelines, we want to support professionals in helping to ensure the participation of children and young people during the asylum procedure,” says Bettina Junker, Executive Director of UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
The new guidelines from UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein and MMI offer an overview of the legal provisions and children’s rights to participation and consultation. They focus on aspects of developmental psychology and provide guidance on holding dialog with children and young people. The guidelines also provide practical tips on how both accompanied and unaccompanied minors can be integrated into the asylum procedure.
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