The Hidden Costs of Unaccompanied Child Migration

In: The International Journal of Children's Rights
Vasileia Digidiki fxb Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA

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Jacqueline Bhabha Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA

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Dramatic reductions in refugee resettlement numbers, restrictions on asylum access and growing externalisation of humanitarian protection have significantly curtailed legal migration pathways for distress migrants. This continues to be the case despite well-established international legal obligations requiring states to protect humanitarian migrants and afford children, in particular, a series of protective procedures. We argue that unaccompanied child migrants are disproportionately disadvantaged by these restrictive measures because other avenues for legal migration – for work, for family reunification, for educational and cultural activities – are generally not open to them. As restrictions increase, unaccompanied children adopt self-initiated, challenging strategies to pay the significant costs of the journeys they embark on, a departure from more linear, “traditional” trajectories towards safety. This article presents qualitative data collected in Greece, site of the largest European distress migrant arrivals in recent years, to discuss the growing cost of irregular mobility for unaccompanied children and the role that exploitation-funded earning plays in enabling their migrations today.

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