TCD Conference Highlights the Protection Needs of Unaccompanied Minors Seeking Asylum in Ireland on World Refuge Day

Posted on: 25 June 2009

The Centre for Post-Conflict Justice at Trinity College Dublin and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) hosted a conference celebrating World Refugee Day on June 17 last.  International and Irish refugee and child rights experts came together at the conference which focused on protection needs of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Ireland.

Opening the conference, Director of the Centre for Post-Conflict Justice, Dr Rosemary Byrne highlighted the obstacles to human rights protection that are confronted by refugee children in the current context of widespread conflict and global recession, stating that almost half of the world’s 42 million victims of conflict and persecution are children. 

UNHCR’s Representative at the conference, Manuel Jordao stated: “There is a continuing clear and present concern when it comes to the protection of separated children. Their age, care needs and other vulnerabilities make these children more reliant than others on the safety nets in national child care systems.”

Other contributors at the conference included The Special Rapporteur for Children, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, who outlined the limitations of the Child Care Act (1991), the Health Service Executive (HSE) discussed the challenges of caring for unaccompanied minors with significant resource limitations, and Emilie Mathez Wiinblad of UNHCR, presented international standards and best practice for child-appropriate refugee determination procedures.  Sophie Magennis from the Office of the Ombudsman for Children and Jyothi Kanics from the Irish Refugee Council discussed on-going projects and initiatives for unaccompanied minors undertaken by their respective organizations.  

As this year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, keynote speaker, Professor of Law at the University College London and founding editor of the International Journal of Children’s Rights, Professor Michael Freeman, analysed the treaty’s cornerstone principle of the ‘best interests of the child’ through its evolving and varied interpretation by domestic courts.

Delegates at the conference also addressed the disappearance of significant numbers of non-national children while under the care of the Health Service Executive and the conference concluded with a consensus on the need for a better co-ordinated and more comprehensive national policy related to unaccompanied minors in the state.

The Centre for Post-Conflict Justice at Trinity College Dublin fosters interdisciplinary research that explores how societies come to terms with episodes of extreme violence in war, civil war, and periods of prolonged civil and political unrest.  The centre brings together faculty and graduate students working in the fields of history, law, peace studies, sociology, theology and ethics.  Its current projects address the themes of justice, transition, governance, memory and reconciliation and draw from field and archival work in the Balkans, Eastern and Central Europe, Central America, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, as well as the experience of the Peace Process in Ireland, North and South. The centre’s researchers also are actively engaged with international post-conflict policy communities.