Training to better understand child migration in Tunisia  

Human migration is a phenomenon that has always existed. However, in recent years, a record number of people have been migrating. There have never been so many people living in a country other than the one in which they were born¹, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) report published in December 2022, which predicted that there will be 281 million migrants in 2020, 51 million more than in 2010, more than twice as many as in 1990 and more than three times as many as in 1970.

The photo essay was written and designed in close collaboration with Jean-Ferdinand Mohenou, a volunteer deployed in Tunisia with the Tunisian Forum For Youth Empowerment (TFYE) as a child rights and advocacy advisor and Lara Pocok, Regional Manager – North Africa and Madagascar.

According to UNICEF, one in eight migrants is a child, representing 36.5 million girls and boys in migration situations worldwide. Migration can involve many obstacles and result in the violation of children’s rights.  

According to the IOM, a migrant is any person who, leaving his or her place of habitual residence, crosses an international border or moves within a State, irrespective of his or her legal status, the voluntary or involuntary nature of the movement, the causes of the movement or the duration of the stay. 

Who are the children in migration situations? 

Today, about one third of children in migration situations are seeking asylum or have the legal status of “refugees” which grants them special protection under international law² while even more children are internally displaced. 

The number of migrant children travelling from their country or region of origin, without their parents, a family member or a close relative due to the political, economic and increasingly climatic context is increasing. They are referred to as unaccompanied children. Whether they are refugees or not, these children are even more vulnerable to exploitation and violence.  

As children, all girls and boys in migration situations, regardless of their migration status, are entitled to special protection under international law.  

Migration in Tunisia 

In the space of a few years, Tunisia has gone from a country of departure to a country of transit, to finally become a country of destination. Governmental bodies as well as Tunisian civil society are now trying to respond to this paradigm shift. To enable civil society to be better informed and equipped to meet the challenges of receiving and accompanying unaccompanied children, the Bureau partnered with IOM in May 2022 as part of its PRIDE international volunteering programme, to organise training workshops on the subject.   

These three workshops were facilitated by François Crépeau, Professor at McGill University in Montreal and former UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, who joined the PRIDE programme for a two-week term in May 2022 in Tunisia. Mr. Crépeau also participated in a fourth event organised by IOM specifically for members of the Tunisian Bar Association.   

Children in migration situations experience the marginality of their parents, whether they are accompanied or, if unaccompanied, are left without family support. The number of unaccompanied migrant children has increased almost tenfold between 2020 and 2021. Adapting to a suddenly large number of foreign children, many of whom speak neither Arabic nor French, is difficult due to the lack of linguistic and cultural interpreters and the lack of a tradition of welcoming these children. Despite significant efforts in each of the governorates, Tunisia’s child protection infrastructure is already severely under-funded and under-equipped. Child protection delegations, as well as civil society in the sector, do not necessarily know how to react to this new situation, and would like to understand how it could evolve.François CRÉPEAU Professor at McGill University, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights

Present at the workshops, the Minister for Family, Women, Children and the Elderly, Ms Amel Moussa, said that « the number of immigrant children currently in Tunisia is 1,816, or 22% of the total number of immigrants who arrived in Tunisia, estimated at over 8,000 ».  The Minister then reported on some of the efforts undertaken to support these children, including the sponsorship of approximately 400 children, the targeted protection of 39 children and the inclusion of 30 children in the Ministry’s early childhood programme. 

   

Some testimonials from the participants

[…] The main issue facing migrant children in Tunisia today is access to education. The difficulties migrant parents face in integrating their children into pre-school or school education institutions are of paramount importance. Facilitating access to education for a migrant child goes beyond compliance with Tunisian law, namely the child protection code, or even the international conventions that Tunisia has ratified. It is rather a fundamental work to create an intercultural society where everyone has a place. Hichem Guesmi, President of the Association for Leadership Development in Africa (ALDA)

To promote greater respect for the rights of migrant children, the training began with a presentation of international instruments and the Tunisian legal framework. 

International instruments and child migration :

  • International legal instruments governing human rights provide the general framework for the protection of children in migration situations. Like any other person, they benefit from all the rights guaranteed by all the international conventions on human rights, including the two international covenants of 1966, the Convention against Torture of 1984, etc.  
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child also applies to every child in a migration situation, regardless of their migration status. They have the right to, inter alia, identity, health, education and to enjoy these rights in a non-discriminatory manner, as any child.
  • According to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the detention of a child on the basis of his or her status or the migration status of his or her parents constitutes a violation of the rights of the child and is contrary to the best interests of the child principle.

To ensure the protection and implementation of their rights, appropriate child protection mechanisms must be in place as soon as the child enters the country. State child protection bodies, in collaboration with civil society, must be able to provide services to children in a language they understand at an early stage and assign them a competent guardian who speaks their language and is responsible for defending their rights. 

 

I was very happy to participate in the activities and training on the rights of migrant children organised by the IBCR on 19 and 20 May 2022.

For us who meet dozens of migrant families on a daily basis, it has been a challenge and a never-ending learning process, to get quality information that we now take care of passing on during our awareness raising actions, that is why I was very happy to participate in the activities and training on migrant children’s rights organised by IBCR. 

Fabrice Hervé BROU YOBO, missionary pastor of the Evangelical Missionary Assembly for the Nations (AMEN), member of the executive board of the National Federation of Evangelical Protestant and Pentecostal Churches in Tunisia (FENADEEPP).

Through the work we have done, we have found several challenges regarding unaccompanied and unaccompanied migrant children. Generally, migrant children are potential victims of human trafficking or smuggling.Justa, Executive Director of the Association Afrique Intelligence (A.A.I) based in the city of Sfax

The fundamental principles and rights that should be applied to children in migration situations

Like every child, children in migration situations are holders of rights that States and society as a whole must respect.

  • The best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all decisions affecting the child.
  • The child’s dignity and right to privacy must be respected at all times.
  • The child has the right to participate effectively in all decisions that directly affect him or her. In implementing their right to participation, their age and level of maturity should be taken into account, as well as their views. 
  • The child should be able to play a constructive role in society. The child should not be treated as a mere object of protection, but as a subject of rights and an actor in his or her own right. 
  • The child is not an adult in a migration situation: his or her status as a child takes precedence over that of a migrant. Their treatment must be adapted to the fact that they are children. 
  • The fact that the child is in an irregular situation in the country, or awaiting regularisation, should not be considered as constituting an offence. Thus, the child cannot be detained for administrative reasons.
  • Family reunification is fundamental, since the family is the basic unit of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members. Priority is therefore given to family ties.  
  • The child’s right to education, housing and health must be ensured in all circumstances. No distinction can be made between national and non-national children in the respect of these rights.

A child is a child, no matter why he or she leaves home, where he or she comes from and where he or she is, or how he or she gets there. No child should be afraid to go to the doctor or be discriminated against because of their country of origin. The work we have just done with the IBCR has enabled us, as a migrant student association, to become aware of migration issues and particularly those faced by children, in order to better disseminate them to our communities.Ondambomo Chaniel - Member of the Advisory Board of the Association of African Students and Trainees in Tunisia (AESAT) 

The workshops organised by the IBCR allowed us to make important encounters, to learn more about the rights of the child, and in particular of migrant children. It is a first in Tunisia to associate ourselves as migrant actors to discuss our difficultiesErica Tacha - President of the Cameroonian Diaspora

We would like to share the problem of the schooling of migrant children in Tunisia. Because we see a large number of migrant children who do not attend school. What does the Tunisian law say? And what are the steps to follow? 

And finally, how could they benefit from education or care? This is a summary of our current concern in a few questions.  But we were well equipped during the IBCR workshops and we now believe that we can face the many difficulties we encounter in the field, as an association of migrants, the meeting of public actors and NGOs reinforces our hopes for the improvement of the living conditions of migrant people.Seri Olivier - Secretary General of the Lion Heart association for humanitarian aid 

The workshops organised in Tunis in partnership with the IOM mark the first of their kind for the PRIDE programme, which aims, beyond the mere deployment of qualified volunteers, to strengthen the overall protection of children and the respect of their rights at the national level of its countries of action. In Tunisia, the issue of child migration is becoming a major concern, which is why the IBCR, through PRIDE, is striving to contribute to strengthening the skills of child protection actors on the subject through such training workshops and to promote dialogue between civil society and state institutions.  

¹United Nations’s source : https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/migration

²UNICEF’s source : https://www.unicef.fr/article/enfants-migrants-et-refugies/

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 PRIDE programme funded
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