Any child who, in any residence procedure, is accompanied by (a) parent(s) or legal representative, is considered an accompanied foreign minor. European children accompanied by (a) parent(s) are also called accompanied foreign minors.
Accompanied foreign minors in the asylum procedure
- are under 18 years old
- are staying in Belgium with their parent(s) or (legal) representative
- their parent(s) or they themselves have applied for asylum.
Unaccompanied foreign minors
- are under 18 years old
- come from a country outside the European Union
- are staying in Belgium without their parent(s) or (legal) representative
- have applied for asylum or are staying in Belgium without legal residence documentation.
Unaccompanied minors in Belgium have a legal status with additional rights. Taking into account the high vulnerability of children, the Royal Decree of 11 July 2003 defining the functions of and the judicial procedures for the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons established a special procedure for dealing with asylum applications from unaccompanied minors.
Adapted asylum procedure
All children are vulnerable, and unaccompanied children even more so. These children often arrive in a foreign country, with a foreign culture, after a traumatising journey. As a result, they often find it hard to tell their asylum story in a clear way.
Registration of the asylum application
When an unaccompanied foreign minor is registered in Belgium, a guardian is assigned to him/her by the Guardianship Service. When the Immigration Service or other authorities have doubts on the minor’s age, the Guardianship Service commissions an age determination test. This medical test (a triple radiograph of the teeth, collarbone and wrist) takes place in a hospital designated by the Guardianship Service.
The role of the representative has been defined by law in the Guardianship Act (Programme Law (I) (Art. 479) - Title XIII - Chapter VI: Guardianship of unaccompanied foreign minors, 24 December 2002
Specialised protection officers
At the CGRS a team of specialised protection officers is responsible for dealing with asylum applications submitted by unaccompanied minors.
In addition to the basic training and at least two years interviewing experience, these protection officers have also received specific training. This training focuses, in particular, on:
- Belgian and European legislation, directives, provisions and the legislation on guardianship
- the principle of the higher interest of the child
- the phases in children's development and the different levels of maturity
- the functioning of children's memory
- indicators of vulnerability in children
- the possible mandate of a child
- the position of a child in the different cultures and intercultural communication with children
- child-specific forms of persecution.
Adapted interview method
An interview of a child differs in certain aspects from that of an adult. For instance, it takes place in a separate interview room. The protection officer adapts his language to the child and encourages it to tell as much as possible of its story spontaneously, from the perspective of its own perception. In doing so, he avoids asking closed questions as much as possible to avoid influencing the child. During the interview the child can draw or use other tools to clarify its story. Breaks are provided. The child can request a break whenever it needs one. The interpreters who assist the children during the interview have also received specific training.
As it is not easy for a child to tell its asylum story to an unknown protection officer, a representative assists the child during the interview at the CGRS. For unaccompanied children the presence of a representative during the interview (also provided for in the Guardianship Act) is in particular important. The CGRS always arranges the interview with an unaccompanied child in consultation with the representative. This allows the representative to prepare for the interview, thoroughly and with enough time, together with the child.
- appoints a lawyer for the child
- ensures that the child's rights are respected throughout the asylum procedure
- provides support to the child during the interview
- can – before, during or within five days after the interview – submit relevant information, documents, medical reports or notes about the child's asylum application to the CGRS, or inform the latter about specific issues that are important with respect to the child
- makes sure during the interview that the child is able to tell everything that has led to the asylum application or is related to its fear
- is the only person present who is allowed to interrupt during the interview and make notes or additions.
Adapted assessment of the asylum application
In its assessment of the asylum application the CGRS applies the benefit of the doubt in the broadest sense possible. The higher interest of the child and its vulnerability are crucial in this. Children experience the world around them in a different way than adults, and interpret things and events in a child-specific manner. Children cannot be expected to know the answer to all questions or to always answer unambiguously.
Where desirable and possible, the CGRS calls witnesses for an interview (uncles, aunts, etc. who are staying in Belgium) to clarify the child's situation. Finally, the CGRS uses child-specific information to study the child's situation as thoroughly as possible and assess it correctly.
In his decision, the Commissioner General uses a language that is adapted to the age and profile of the unaccompanied minor applicant.
The representative receives the decision concerning the unaccompanied minor, the lawyer and the minor both receive a copy.
The coordinator for minors
The CGRS has a coordinator for minor applicants. This coordinator knows everything related to dealing with asylum applications from unaccompanied minors. She also closely supervises their asylum applications. The protection officer can turn to the coordinator for questions concerning legislation and law on children in the asylum procedure. The protection officer can also consult with the coordinator on individual applications. Representatives can turn to this coordinator as well when they have questions or remarks.