A group of minors being rescued in the port of Almeria, southern Spain. PHOTO/ARCHIVE/EPA/CARLOS BARBA
A group of minors being rescued in the port of Almeria, southern Spain. PHOTO/ARCHIVE/EPA/CARLOS BARBA

A report by UNICEF said that migrant children become more vulnerable when they enter the protection system in Spain. And that's despite the fact that minors in Spain are protected by policies for children and not the regular migration policies.

A significant number of migrants who have reached Spain in recent years are minors. There are at least 13,000 minors under the charge of various regions throughout the country, according to a 2018 calculation by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

The risks and dangers that minors face during their migratory journey, as well as those they face once they arrive at their destination, are higher than those faced by minors who migrate with their own families. And, despite the fact that minor migrants in Spain are protected by policies for children and not the regular migratory policies, once the minors are in the protection system, their situation becomes more difficult and "the vulnerabilities aren't reduced but rather made more acute", according to a report presented by UNICEF. 

The report details results of a study conducted from September 20 to October 16, 2018, in protection centers for minors and on the streets of Melilla, Ceuta, Madrid, and Andalusia. 

Problems highlighted by UNICEF 

The UNICEF report identified several problems, including:
  • the lack of mediators who know the language of those residing in the reception centers
  • the lack of legal assistance
  • cases of abuse
  • the presence of only one psychologist on average for every 600 minors 
  • difficulties in accessing the educational system
  • limitations often revealed in juvenile court supervision, especially in determining the age of the minors. 

"From their arrival at the border and onwards, the young boys and girls have practically no free legal assistance nor legal representation at hearings in which their rights are at stake," the report said, cited by Spanish daily El Pais. It also cited "unjustified delays" in processing residency permits due to a "saturated system." 

As of September 30, 2018, only 395 residency permit requests were authorised by the regions, out of a total of 5,000 requests related to minors who had recently arrived. Pedro Sanchez's government allocated 40 million euros in funding to the autonomous communities that took in the largest number of minor migrants last year. However, the UNICEF report said there is the "need for a national plan between the state and regions, responsible for the protection of foreign unaccompanied minors" in order to ensure a consistent coordination and protection policy throughout the country. 

Save the Children says system gives no hope 

Save the Children, in a report titled "Los mas solos", also denounced shortcomings in the Spanish system of reception, protection, and integration of unaccompanied minors. It said 2,177 children reached Spanish territory by sea in 2017, four times the number of those who arrived in 2016. It said if the minors are registered, "they enter into a protection system that doesn't give them much hope, due to having to wait at least one week for an adult to speak to in their language" and due to the long processing times that leave the children in limbo. These processes often end in expulsion from the protection system at the age of 18, "without having had time to access the integration process." 

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