Since Russia penetrated Ukraine On February 24th an estimated 4,000 Ukrainian children came to Ireland to seek refuge. Most came with their families and 3,800 are already enrolled in schools. But one startling statistic stands out: Since the start of the war, 89 unaccompanied Ukrainian children have arrived at Irish airports or ports without adult supervision. As of Friday, 33 of them are still in state custody.
or Kate Duggan, national director for services and integration at Tusla Children and Family Agency, the pattern is one that children’s charities here have never seen before.
“The profile is a much older young person between the ages of 16 and 18. For the most part they travel unaccompanied, they come here looking for access to safe housing and access to education,” she said.
“And for many of them, their parents and families know that they have traveled unaccompanied. They are trying to protect them and give them sanctuary in Ireland.”
Most of the 89 children traveling alone arrived at Dublin Airport, where they were caught through the rigorous screening procedures in place to that end. Immigration Services referred the children to local Tusla staff, who were on duty until 2:30 a.m. each day.
The aim is to reunite children with their families or relatives. Translators are usually on hand to help communicate with children. Parents will be contacted by phone, Skype or WhatsApp where possible, Tusla said, and with the parents’ knowledge, a care plan for the child will be drawn up.
Most of the 89 children who traveled here alone have been reunited with family members or adults they know, such as relatives, neighbors or family friends, who also traveled here from Ukraine.
A small number of them turned 18 after arriving in Ireland. The youngest Ukrainian child placed in state care was a 12-year-old who had traveled from Ukraine with an older cousin. They found shelter in the Midlands. When the cousin was unable to care for the child, Tusla took her into state custody. The 12-year-old has since been reunited with family members.
Most of the 33 unaccompanied children who are still in state care are in contact with their families. Six are 16 years old; 27 are 17 years old. Most live with foster families, two in small group homes and six in assisted living for older teenagers.
“For most of them we have significant working relationships with their family members or known adults either in Ireland or elsewhere in Europe or in Ukraine,” Ms Duggan said.
“So we worked with them to establish their identities and reunite them with families in Ukraine.”
The spate of displaced women and children from Ukraine has raised concerns about human trafficking for labor or sex. As long as the conflict continues, the risk of them being targeted by criminal networks will increase, according to a UN report last month. Unicef has warned of the risks to Ukrainian children who are “extremely vulnerable to being separated from their families, exploited and trafficked”.
The 89 Ukrainian children who arrived here alone were picked up by the screening procedures at Dublin airport and ports and registered with the Ukrainian embassy. But is it possible that some children are missing?
“I think the first thing to say is, unfortunately, when there’s a crisis like this, there’s a war, there’s a humanitarian crisis, there’s a huge number of people fleeing a country, there’s always that Human trafficking risk, child trafficking risk,” said Ms. Duggan.
“As an agency, we needed to assess this risk and make changes to respond and mitigate it.”
Changes include expanding existing measures for children traveling alone – or unaccompanied minors as they are known. All unaccompanied minors will be met outside of business hours by specialized teams for unaccompanied children seeking international protection or a social work team.
Some children who travel here arrive with adults who are not family or distant relatives. They are the children of parents who cannot or will not flee, who are placed in the care of relatives or neighbors to be taken across the Ukrainian border.
“These are children who are traveling with a neighbour, a cousin or a family friend,” Ms Duggan said. “These children are also referred to us by immigration. We also examine these children and make an assessment of them based on their records and their families. Are they in contact with them, are the children relaxed and happy, do they know their fellow travelers and do their fellow travelers know a lot about them?”
When the teams have doubts, the children are taken into custody. “It may be a few days before we are satisfied with the identification of the minor and the person he is dating.”
Those who are allowed through are scheduled for a follow-up visit by social workers.
The risks to children displaced by the war are reflected in the prevalence of Tusla in the government response. Its officials sit on the Taoiseach’s National Humanitarian Response Group; Local government CEOs have been given their own Tusla contact point; its educational staff works with the Ministry of Education on access.
Two weeks ago, Tusla processed 32 remittances from children traveling alone. As of Friday, the number was 89. Tusla has said it will respond to those who need assistance “as timely and appropriately as possible” during this most difficult time. The strain on his services has raised “concern,” Tusla said.
“I think it’s probably going to continue and it’s going to put pressure on our system in terms of how we respond to unaccompanied minors and child protection,” Ms Duggan said.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/they-are-seeking-access-to-safe-accommodation-and-education-the-ukrainian-children-fleeing-war-all-alone-41538492.html “They seek access to safe housing and education” – the Ukrainian children fleeing the war all alone