According to the LITP, “unaccompanied child” means a third-country national or a stateless person younger than eighteen years of age who entered the Republic of Croatia unaccompanied by an adult person responsible for him or her in the sense of parental care, pursuant to the law of the Republic of Croatia, until placed under the care of such a person, and includes all children who are left unaccompanied after they entered the Republic of Croatia.
In 2021, 195 unaccompanied children sought international protection in Croatia.
Time of appointment
According to the Protocol on Procedures for Unaccompanied and Separated Children, as soon as it is established that a child is unaccompanied or separated, the police officer must take actions to ensure the procedure of identification, which among others includes obligation to invite a social worker from the Centre for Social Welfare and an interpreter if the child does not understand Croatian, and to forward a letter to the competent Centre for Social Welfare requesting a special guardian to be appointed.
The procedure of identification includes:
- Communication, introducing oneself and informing the child about the country of arrival, his or her guaranteed rights, the appointment of a special guardian, procedures that follow after the child’s identification;
- Collecting personal data and other information about the child;
- Conducting an initial assessment of the child’s needs by completing the form “Initial Assessment of Needs of Unaccompanied and Separated Children” in Annex 1 to the Protocol;
- Steps to be followed in the event of an expression of intention to submit an application for international protection during the identification procedure.
The procedure of identification is conducted by a police officer in the police administration or police station. An interpreter assigned by the Ministry of Interior, a social worker from the Centre for Social Welfare and/or a special guardian also participate.
Where the procedure of identification is conducted outside the regular working hours of the competent Centre for Social Welfare, the expert duty officer of the Centre for Social Welfare takes part in the procedure. He or she must appoint a special guardian, in an oral ruling, to protect the wellbeing of the child and to ensure the implementation of further procedures. If it is found out that the child already has a guardian, the official from the Centre for Social Welfare or the police officer will call the appointed guardian to take part in further procedures with the unaccompanied or separated child.
During 2019, the Ombudsperson received 10 allegations of violations of the rights of migrant children (including both children with families and unaccompanied children). This includes unlawful individual and collective expulsions at the border with Bosnia and Serbia. The Ombudsperson also expressed concern regarding the allegations of CSOs and international organisations according to which the Croatian police does not always conduct age assessments, as was the case when they found a group of adolescents and younger men who were subsequently pushed back to Bosnia. In 2021 allegations of pushbacks have continued (see Access to the territory and pushbacks) including pushbacks of children.
In 2021, the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children continued to receive information on cases of authorities separating migrant and asylum-seeking children from their families for months. In addition, the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children reported that children were regularly placed into pre-removal detention centres, as well as in community service centres in Zagreb and Split which are intended for children with behavioural issues.
The media also reported two cases of parent–child separation by Croatian border guards at the external borders, with no information about the whereabouts of the parent(s). Are You Syrious also reported on family separation at the borders: mothers and children are often allowed to enter the territory to seek asylum while fathers are pushed back to Bosnia and Herzegovina by Croatian police.
According to the LITP, the Centre for Social Welfare shall appoint a guardian, who has been trained to work with children and who does not have a conflict of interest with the child, unaccompanied children who have expressed the intention to apply for international protection. The child must be informed immediately about the appointment of the guardian. The procedure for international protection must be conducted by the official from the Ministry of Interior trained to work with children. The guardian has to prepare, on time, the unaccompanied child for the interview and provide him or her with information on the significance and consequences of the interview in a language which it may justifiably be assumed that child understands and in which he or she is able to communicate. The costs of interpretation shall be borne by the Ministry of Interior. However, to the Croatian Law Centre’s knowledge, this possibility is rarely used in practice as guardians are not using this legal right.
There is no time limit prescribed by the LITP for the appointment of the representative of an unaccompanied child but it is obvious from the LITP that a guardian has to be appointed before submitting an application for international protection. From the information provided by the Ministry of Interior problems with delays in the appointment of legal guardians in practice also existed in 2018. According to the knowledge of Croatian Law Centre this issue persisted in 2020 and 2021 in some cases as well.
CLC is a partner in the project “Integrative support for unaccompanied children”, which is carried out by the Croatian Red Cross. The project will increase the social inclusion of 120 unaccompanied children. In the trainings envisaged through project, 130 experts will acquire adequate competencies for work. In addition, a system of easily accessible and specialised professional assistance to special guardians and experts in institutions where unaccompanied children are accommodated, will be provided. In 2021 CLC’s lawyer participated in activities aimed at education of relevant actors. The project will end on 1 May 2022.
Qualifications of guardians
Until now, no special qualifications were required for the appointment of guardians. In practice, according to the information available to the Croatian Law Centre, when workers from Centres for Social Welfare were appointed as guardians, these were usually lawyers, social workers or social pedagogues who are working within the Centre for Social Welfare.
According to the Report of the Croatian Ombudsperson for Children for 2018, published in March 2019, centres for social work are still appointing guardians for unaccompanied children from the circle of adults that arrive with the child. However, according to the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy, on average, one guardian is appointed for 2.15 unaccompanied children. Almost all appointed special guardians were employees of social welfare centres, replacing the previous practice of appointing persons who travelled with the child. However, the Ombudsperson for Children reported that during 2020, nine persons that arrived with children were appointed as guardians to unaccompanied children.
In 2019, the Ombudsperson for Children reported that special guardians were generally appointed from the Centres for Social Welfare staff (272 special guardians were appointed in 2019) and from the staff of social welfare institutions in which unaccompanied children were accommodated (7 employees were appointed in 2019). 
The Ombudsperson for Children reported that problems still exsisted in the guardianship system in 2021. Some special guardians did not have contact with unaccompanied children, which is why children did not received adequate information about their rights and obligations. Some guardians are reportedly also not motivated, which stems from the scope of work that they regularly perform.
During some periods of 2020, visits to UASC accommodated in Residential Child Care Institutions were not possible due to the COVID-19. Croatian Red Cross reported that in 2021 their mobile team conducted a large number of visits to those institutions to provide psychosocial support to children and provide material services (such as clothing and school supplies).
According to the Ombudsperson for Children, employees of the Centres for Social Welfare are often not motivated to take special guardianship of unaccompanied children due to overload of obligations arising from their regular work. Special guardians are often not available to children neither in regular contact with them. As a result, they do not fully protect their rights and interests. Guardians do not visit their wards regularly, and although during the pandemic, such visits were restricted during some periods of 2020, guardians did not resort to remote communications tools such as online tools or by telephone.
The previous updates of the AIDA report on Croatia provide background information on the different trainings and projects related to the unaccompanied children that were organised since 2016.
In November 2020, on the occasion of the World Children’s Day, Croatian Law Centre in cooperation with UNHCR, held the online conference “Actualities in the Field of the Protection of Rights of Unaccompanied children”. The topic of the conference was the state of the protection of unaccompanied children, with the special focus on the expected arrival of unaccompanied children from Greece.
Since 2016 the Croatian Law Centre, as implementing partner of UNHCR, started providing free legal aid in places where unaccompanied children are accommodated (Residential Child Care Institutions in Zagreb, Split, Rijeka and Osijek, and Child Reception Units), when needed and depending on the number of children accommodated. The activity continued in 2018. In 2019 the majority of counselling services were organised in Zagreb. In 2020 and 2021 due to the unfavourable epidemiological situation, legal counselling with children was mainly provided via phone and WhatsApp/viber, as opposed to an in-person assistance in childcare institutions. The Croatian Law Centre also provided special guardians with legal information about protection of rights of unaccompanied children
In the course of 2021, the Croatian Law Centre held 3 online workshops in cooperation with UNHCR on „The Protection of Unaccompanied Children: Procedure and Exercising Rights After the Accommodation of Children” for relevant actors working within social welfare system. The following topics were presented at the workshops: UNHCR standards in the treatment of unaccompanied children, the right and possibilities of accommodation of unaccompanied children within the social welfare system, the right to health care and health support for children, the importance of intersectoral cooperation in the inclusion of unaccompanied children in educational system, unaccompanied children in the procedure for granting international protection, expression of intention in the procedure for international protection, Dublin procedure and temporary stay for humanitarian reasons and integration of unaccompanied children into Croatian society.
In 2020, IOM conducted info campaigns on prevention of sexual and gender-based violence for unaccompanied minors located in children homes in Zagreb, Ivanec, Zadar and Split. 
Capacity and performance of functions
Guardians of unaccompanied children were and still are generally appointed among the social workers of the competent Centre for Social Welfare, although in the Policy brief on the protection of unaccompanied children in the Republic of Croatia which was prepared by the Centre for Peace Studies, the Rehabilitation Centre for Stress and Trauma, together with an independent, it is reported that in recent years, they are being appointed from the ranks of employees of social welfare institutions in which unaccompanied children are accommodated.
According to the law, the best interests of children should be considered when implementing provisions of LITP, so also when appointing a person to act as a guardian. The best interests of the child shall be assessed, taking into account:
- The welfare and social development of the child, and his/her origin;
- The protection and safety of the child, especially if the possibility exists that he or she is a victim of trafficking in human beings;
- The child’s opinion, depending on his or her age and maturity; and
- The possibility of family reunification, etc.
The guardian of an unaccompanied child shall undertake all the necessary activities, including contact and cooperation with the competent ministries, other state and foreign bodies, and NGOs, in order to reunite the child with his or her family if this is in the best interests of the child.
On the other side, the LITP prescribes that a guardian shall not be appointed when an unaccompanied child is over 16 years of age and is married, which can be understood that persons from the age of 16 have the capacity “to perform procedural acts” on their own behalf in procedures for international protection.
The Centre for Peace Studies reported that unaccompanied children have insufficient or no contact with guardians in some cases, which leads to inadequate support and access to information and services.
 Article 2(1)(17) LITP.
 Article 17(1) LITP.
 Information provided by the Ministry of Interior, 28 January 2019.
 Information provided by the Croatian Red Cross, 4 January 2022.
 The project Legal Services to Asylum Seekers has been implemented by the Croatian Law Centre from 1 February 2003, with the aim of providing free legal aid to asylum seekers and recognised refugees i.e. asylees and foreigners under subsidiary protection. The project is being implemented with financial support from and in close co-operation with the UNHCR Representation in Croatia.
 Information provided by IOM, 30 December 2020.
 Article 10 LITP.
 Article 17(3) LITP.
 Information provided by Centre for Peace Studies, 10 January 2022.