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Study on the Return of Children



A study on “best practices in the field of the return of minors” was carried out by ECRE, in strategic partnership with Save the Children, on behalf of the European Commission.

The study looked at legislation and practices regarding the return of children, either unaccompanied or within families, who return voluntarily or are forced to return because of their status as illegally staying third country nationals.

The aim of the study is to help Member States develop an effective system for how to consider the return of children to countries outside of the EU.

The key legal instrument to which the study relates is the Directive 2008/115/EC on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals, the so-called ‘Returns Directive’. The Directive identifies the “best interests of the child” as a “primary consideration” for States when implementing the Returns Directive and contains a range of provisions which specifically address the situation of children.

In May 2010 the European Commission adopted a Communication on an “Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors (2010 – 2014)”. When describing durable solutions for unaccompanied children, the Action Plan identifies return and reintegration in the country of origin as one option and refers to this study.

The study covered the 27 EU Member States and the 4 Schengen Associated States (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland). Further research was also conducted in seven selected countries of return: Afghanistan, Angola, Kosovo, Morocco, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. Information was gathered through research and interviews with relevant stakeholders involved in the return of children in all the countries covered as well as at the regional and supranational level.

The study also produced a checklist to assist Member States in designing clear procedures and process under which the return of children can be considered properly, based on obligations deriving from EU and international law and standards. The checklist provides an overall framework of key issues and is designed as a quality-planning tool, with indicators. The checklist is informed by national noteworthy practices.

In 7 November 2011, a closing conference was held in Brussels. It brought together stakeholders from Member states, countries of return, international and non-governmental organisations. Outcomes of the study and national noteworthy practices were presented. In addition, stakeholders exchanged information and views in workshops around the implementation of the checklist.

Project documents

Conference documents

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