Legal representation of unaccompanied children

Croatia

Country Report: Legal representation of unaccompanied children Last updated: 27/05/21

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Croatian Law Centre Visit Website

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.[1]

In 2020, 186 unaccompanied children sought international protection in Croatia.[2]

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).[3] 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 2020 allegations of pushbacks have continued (see Access to the territory and pushbacks) and the Centre for Peace Studies as well as the national Ombudsperson reported about pushbacks of children.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6]  According to the knowledge of Croatian Law Centre this issue persisted in 2020 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. It is planned that CLC’s lawyer will participate in activities aimed at education of relevant actors.

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.[7] 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.[8] However, the Ombudsperson for Children reported that during 2020, nine persons that arrived with children were appointed as guardians to unaccompanied children.[9]

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). [10]

During some periods of 2020, visits to UASC accommodated in Residential Child Care Institutions were not possible due to the COVID-19. This follows a decision to ban visits to social welfare institutions to comply with applicable health measures. 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.[11]

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, 2018 the Croatian Law Centre started with the implementation of the project “Let’s realise the rights of unaccompanied children”,[12] with Residential Child Care Institutions in Ivanec, Rijeka and Zagreb. The project ended in October 2019. The aim of the project was to improve the legal protection of unaccompanied children by providing professional legal assistance and support to unaccompanied children but also to professionals in schools, health centers and ministries responsible for exercising the rights of unaccompanied children. During  the project, a roadmap on the family reunification process was prepared  and disseminated to relevant stakeholders. The roadmap is a detailed description of the actions that need to be taken during the family reunification process.

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,[13] 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 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 November and December 2019, UNHCR organised four workshops in Croatia on the practical implementation of the 2018 Protocol on procedures for unaccompanied children. The workshops were attended by 154 persons, including 71 police officers for irregular migration and 83 social workers and childcare professionals from centres for social welfare and children’s facilities. The following topics were presented at the workshops: identification of UASC among groups of irregular migrants, initial health assessment, initial best interest assessment, access to international protection and accommodation to children’s facilities, followed by casework and real-life story of an UASC. The topics of the workshops were designed by a Working Group comprising of representatives of respective ministries, international organisations and civil society organisations.[14]

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. [15]

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.

According to the law, the best interests of children should be considered when implementing provisions of LITP,[16] 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,[17] 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.

 

 

[1]   Article 2(1)(17) LITP.

[2]  Ministry of Interior, Statistics 2020, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/2RN2whz.

[3]  Ombudsperson for Children, Report on the work of Ombudsman for Children in 2019, March 2020, available in Croatian: https://bit.ly/2VHkC2Z.

[4] Centre for Peace Studies, Pushback report on children and unaccompanied children in Croatia, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3syfbBX; Ombudsperson for Children, Report on the work of the Ombudsman for Children in 2020, March 2021, available online as of 7 April 2021 at : https://bit.ly/3sC9Ppf.

[5]  Article 17(1) LITP.

[6]   Information provided by the Ministry of Interior, 28 January 2019.

[7] FRA, Migration flows: Key fundamental rights concerns – Q4, 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3bMF8FQ; Ombudsman for children, Report available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/3bOsQwy.

[8]  FRA, Migration flows: Key fundamental rights concerns – Q2, 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3dXREnQ.

[9]  Ombudsperson for Children, Report on the work of the Ombudsman for Children in 2020, March 2021, available online as of 7 April 2021 at : https://bit.ly/3sC9Ppf.

[10]  Ombudsperson for Children, Report on the work of Ombudsman for Children in 2019, March 2020, available in Croatian: https://bit.ly/2VHkC2Z.

[11]  Ombudsperson for Children, Report on the work of the Ombudsman for Children in 2020, March 2021, available online as of 7 April 2021 at : https://bit.ly/3sC9Ppf.

[12] The project is supported by the Ministry for Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy.

[13]  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.

[14] EMN, Bulletin, February 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2Rdeuhi.

[15]  Information provided by IOM, 30 December 2020.

[16] Article 10 LITP.

[17]  Article 17(3) LITP.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation