Conference on children's rights and migration
On 26 January 2023, a conference was held at Leiden Law School on children’s rights and migration. The conference, organised by Stichting Migratierecht Nederland (SMN) and the Europa Institute of Leiden University, was attended by academics, lawyers, judges, policymakers, and other legal professionals working in the field of migration and related areas of expertise.
At the morning session, the following speakers discussed the interests of the child within the context of migration:
- Professor Margrite Kalverboer, Child Ombudsman and Professor by special appointment of Children, Pedagogics and Refugee and Asylum Law at Groningen University
- Professor Peter Rodrigues, Professor of Immigration Law, Europa Institute, and outgoing board member of SMN
- Professor Ann Skelton, member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, guest professor at Leiden University (Children's Rights in a Sustainable World chair), and holder of UNESCO Chair: Education Law in Africa, at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria
Topics included the role and value of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the importance of monitoring children’s rights for legal practice, and the position of minor foreign nationals in immigration law. A panel session was also held in the morning on bottlenecks in policy and legal practice and possible solutions to better prioritise the interests of children in migration law. Adriana van Dooijeweert, a justice at the Court of Appeal in The Hague and outgoing chairperson of SMN, chaired the panel which comprised:
- Professor Margrite Kalverboer
- Andrea Vonkeman, Head of UNHCR Netherlands
- Martin Vegter, legal adviser children’s rights and migration, Defence for Children
- Steffie van Lokven, senior judge Asylum and Refugee Law, Court of Limburg
- Rhodia Maas, Director-General, Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND)
In the afternoon, workshops were held where participants considered topics varying from child protection and stay, nationality law and age assessment, to undocumented minors, unaccompanied minor refugees, and finally the ruling in Chavez Vílchez and the interests of the child. The workgroup sessions were led by Pim Fischer (Fischer groep), Germa Lourens (Nidos), Flip Schüller, (Prakken d’Oliveira Human Rights Lawyers), Patty van Elk (IND), Irene Kozica (IND), Mark Klaassen (Europa Institute), and Jorg Werner (Noordstern law firm).
Among other things, the conference made it clear that, unfortunately, the child has not yet acquired its own place in immigration law. Children are often still seen as part of the family, but it is precisely children who want to have a say and, in doing so, also want to be told why a decision has not been made in their interests. Being given an actual explanation is more bearable than being totally overlooked. Peter Rodrigues, Professor of Immigration Law at Leiden University, stressed that children must not be held responsible for their parents’ behaviour; otherwise, they will be left to deal with the consequences. So, there is still much work to be done in all layers of the rule of law to give the children's rights perspective an important place in immigration law.
Ton Liefaard, Professor of Children’s Rights at Leiden University, closed the conference and concluded that considering the complexity of the topics discussed, the key question is: 'what place do children's interests and rights have in our decisions?' Concretising these rights for all children is essential in this respect. Respect for human dignity, non-discrimination and inclusion, and the participation of children as actors are important core values of children's rights.
Children are slowly getting more recognition in immigration law, but much work is still to be done. Liefaard closed the day with some memorable words: “In a constitutional state the hands of justice are never tied.” (Justice Albie Sachs 6 December 2018)
This translation is a summary of the Dutch text of the report on the conference written by Barbara Safradin, Secretary of the Meijers Committee