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The Rights of the Child and Unaccompanied Minors at the EU's Southern Border

Roxana Barbulescu, Jean Grugel

This paper examines the gap between the legal rights of unaccompanied minors and their treatment by the Spanish state. We focus on the case of Spain for two reasons: first, as a member state on the EU Southern border and the country which shares the largest border with Africa, Spain has experienced steadily increasing inward migration during the last twenty years; and secondly, there has been pressure, from civil society and the courts on the state to uphold human rights commitments. We discuss the unaccompanied child's effective access to the right to human dignity, a fair trial and nondiscrimination as well as to her exercise of the right to family life, education and health. International and European rights norms entrust the state with with the legal guardianship of unaccompanied children and commit the state to act in their best interests. Nevertheless, the state is failing to protect unaccompanied minors and, in doing so, failing to comply with international norms by de facto disputing the priority of their status of minor over that of an undocumented migrant. Spain has sought to repatriate unaccompanied children to their country of nationality through readmission agreements with a number of countries, including Mali, and through the creation of centres for holding unaccompanied children in their countries of origin, rather than in Spain. In the conclusion of the paper, we reflect on the difficulties of that surround the protection of the rights of unaccompanied child migrants that the case studies reveals.

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