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.
In 2022, 4,733 children expressed the intention to seek international protection, among them a total of 436 unaccompanied children, of which 337 were boys and 99 were girls. In 2022, 104 unaccompanied children submitted applications for international protection whereas 32 procedures were suspended, two dismissed and 70 are ongoing. Regardless of the year when applications for international protection were submitted, in 2022 one unaccompanied children was granted international protection, 116 procedures were suspended, three dismissed and one annulled.
A special guardian should be appointed for each unaccompanied child, with the exception of married unaccompanied children over the age of 16.
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.
Allegations of pushbacks involving children have been a constant in recent years (see previous AIDA reports). 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.
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 reported on family separation at the borders in 2021: 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.
In 2022, allegations of pushbacks continued (see Access to the territory and pushbacks), including pushbacks of children.
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 2020,2021 and 2022 in some cases as well.
In 2022, the Croatian Red Cross continued the implementation of two projects aimed at supporting unaccompanied children and experts working with unaccompanied children – “Integrative support for unaccompanied children”, co-financed by the European Union from the European Social Fund and “Access to protection for asylum seekers and refugees” financed by UNHCR. (see more under: Unaccompanied children).
In 2022, the Croatian Law Centre (CLC) implemented the project “Legal counselling in the procedure for the approval of international protection in 2021”. Within the project, the legal advices and/or information were provided also to unaccompanied children who were applicants for international protection. It was observed that children often did not receive adequate information about their rights and obligations from their guardians. In addition, it was observed that unaccompanied children were quickly leaving the institutions where they were accommodated and consequently Croatia.
During the implementation of the project, CLC published informative material (brochure), visually and terminologically/linguistically adapted to children, in seven languages: English, Turkish, Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Russian and Spanish. The brochures, which contains basic information on the procedure for international protection and the scope of legal counselling, were sent to social welfare institutions where unaccompanied children were accommodated and are also available on CLC website. Within the project, CLC organized and held a meeting with the institutions where unaccompanied children were accommodated and centres for social welfare in order to provide more detailed information about the project and the importance of legal advice for children and their guardians.
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.
The Ombudsperson for Children reported that problems still existed 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. In 2022, the Ombudsperson for Children reached similar conclusions. 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. The Ombudsperson for Children reported that many children do not know who their guardian is or how to contact them, and they only meet guardian when submitting application for international protection. Children do not know how to get information about the family reunification available services and school enrolment. Therefore, there is a need for more frequent and timely communication with the guardian and their actual, not just formal, availability.
The Croatian Red Cross reported that in 2022 their mobile team conducted a large number of visits to institutions where unaccompanied children are accommodated to provide psychosocial support to children and provide material services (such as clothing and school supplies).
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 (CLC) 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 CLC, 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 CLC also provided special guardians with legal information about protection of rights of unaccompanied children. In 2022, the similar activities (i.e. counselling for unaccompanied children) were provided by CLC within the project “Legal counselling in the procedure for the approval of international protection in 2021”. Project was co-financed with the funds of the Fund for Asylum, Migration and Integration, and based on the contract concluded with the Responsible Authority for the Management of Funds for Internal Affairs, the Directorate for European Affairs, international relations and European Union funds of the Ministry of Interior.
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 inter-sectoral 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.
 Croatian Law Centre, The Croatian Asylum System in 2022 – National Report. The report was prepared as part of the project “Legal Assistance and Capacity Building for Access to Territory and Asylum in Croatia“, with financial support of the UNHCR Croatia: available in English at: https://bit.ly/434T7RL.
 Article 17(1) LITP.
 Information provided by the Ministry of Interior, 28 January 2019.
 Information provided by the Croatian Red Cross, 18 January 2023.
 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, 18 January 2023.