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First response (Part 1)

Video about identifying unaccompanied and separated children

In this video we hear from Diego Pandiscia who works for the NGO INTERSOS in Sicily. Diego describes the work of INTERSOS and their first response when boats carrying refugees and migrants enter Italian waters off the coast of Sicily. We hear about the importance of ensuring that unaccompanied and separated children are immediately identified. We also hear about the collection of other information that can be shared with organisations who will respond to immediate needs.

Diego tells us how staff of INTERSOS work alongside Italian coastguards. He also speaks about the importance of training and how INTERSOS has helped to build capacity of the Italian coastguards in partnership with UNICEF.

Although the particular example in this film is about the arrival of unaccompanied and separated children by sea, the process and the care that is taken is applicable to first response and identification in other contexts. Not only is it important we correctly identify a child as a child, but we must also find out whether they are unaccompanied or separated. If you are responsible for making such initial decisions, it is vital they are accurate and take a child’s best interests into consideration.

Your actions can set a child on their pathway for life. For example, children have told us that errors like misspelling of their name or a wrong age determination subsequently affected legal procedures and other important decisions for many years afterwards. They were denied the opportunity of family reunification, wrongly placed in adult reception centres and even imprisoned in adult detention centres.

Even if they seem to be travelling in the company of adults, it is still essential to find out whether a child is unaccompanied or separated. When a child is travelling with an adult who is not a parent or customary/legal carer, you should check what the relationship between the child and adult is. We should also consider the suitability of children who are separated – not travelling with their parents or legal/customary carers – but who are with other relatives, remaining with these family members who are looking after them. As long as the child is not at risk of harm, it is often in the child’s best interests to keep the family group together.

It is particularly important not to separate siblings who arrive together unless there is a clear risk of abuse or other justification in the best interests of the child. When a group of brothers and sisters arrive together, but are identified as being unaccompanied or separated, all efforts must be made to keep them together.

As we noted on the previous course page, we should also be aware that not all unaccompanied and separated children want to be identified as children. Some prefer to avoid contact with officials and services – perhaps because of a previous bad experience. To do this they might provide incorrect information or enter a country unofficially, away from an official border. They might pretend to be adults. They might tell us the adult they are travelling with is a parent or legal/customary carer when actually they are not related at all.

Again, let us remember how our decisions about a child being unaccompanied or separated can affect their rights to care and protection. It can also effect processes of family tracing, reunification and determination of other long term solutions.

The ‘See Also’ section below has links to other reading material that may be of interest to you.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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