UN Committee on the Rights of the Child confirms: Improvements urgently needed for refugee children in Switzerland
On 27 September, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published its recommendations on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Switzerland. Save the Children very much welcomes the fact that the Committee on the Rights of the Child gives so much attention to the difficult situation of refugee and migrant children and urgently recommends that Switzerland improves the implementation of their rights.
Improving access to education is just one of many recommendations made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the importance of which is reinforced by the wish for an apprenticeship of the girl in the picture.
Comprehensive reporting procedure with the participation of children and young people
The Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified by Switzerland requires the Swiss government to report every 5 years on how children’s rights are implemented in the country. For this purpose, a state report was drawn up by the federal government and the cantons at the end of 2020. The Children’s Rights Network Switzerland, of which Save the Children is a board member, accompanied the state review and submitted a supplementary NGO report as well as a child and youth report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in spring 2021. Save the Children also participated in the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s discussion with Swiss civil society.
Refugee children have a particularly hard time
Both the report of the Swiss Children’s Rights Network, the participatory report on children and young people as well as the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child highlight: even though important improvements have been achieved since the last recommendations in 2015, e.g. in the areas of accommodation and education, children’s rights are not yet sufficiently implemented for refugee children. In particular, the Committee on the Rights of the Child points to the following urgent need for action, which exists irrespective of the residence status of refugee/migrant children:
We very much welcome the fact that the Children's Rights Committee gives so much attention to the difficult situation of refugee and migrant children.
The overriding interest of the child and participation in the asylum process must be ensured
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that the Swiss authorities include the best interest of the child as the primary basis for decisions on the transfer or expulsion of refugee children and adolescents in accordance with the ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child. In addition, children who are accompanied by family members should also be systematically given their own opportunity to be heard in the asylum process. Save the Children, as a children's rights organisation, supports the fact that the best interest of the child should be paramount in the context of the asylum procedure. In particular, improved cooperation between parties in the asylum sector and child protection authorities is needed to ensure this well-being and the possibility of participation.
Minimum standards for child-friendly accommodation and training on children's rights are needed
The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that Switzerland introduce minimum standards for child-friendly accommodation as well as for integration and support measures in asylum shelters in all cantons and provide sufficient support for them. For Save the Children, this includes, for example, the establishment of child-friendly rooms, support and play facilities for younger children, as well as support for parents with children in asylum centres. The necessary resources must be allocated equally in all cantons. Save the Children also recommends that families be placed in flats after a few months at the latest so that children do not grow up in shared accommodation.
In addition, the Committee recommends that all professionals working with children and adolescents be aware of children's rights and that resources be made available for systematic further training. Save the Children supports this recommendation and continues to offer advice and support to authorities and organisations in the asylum sector on the development and implementation of standards for child-friendly accommodation, care, and education.
Access to education must be further improved
The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends strengthening measures for the integration of refugee children into primary school and post-compulsory education institutions, regardless of their residence status. Refugee children and adolescents wish to attend regular primary school and want to have the opportunity to complete an apprenticeship or further education. This is illustrated by a quote from a refugee girl from the participatory child and youth report: "School is everything. We want to study and make a name for ourselves so that our parents can be proud and not disappointed". In the view of Save the Children, schooling within a centre or in a reception class should therefore only serve as temporary preparation for integration into regular schools, for example to learn the language.
Health care is problematic
The Children's Rights Committee is concerned about de facto discrimination in access to the health care system for refugee and migrant children. Save the Children also recommends more direct access to health care, especially in the area of mental health, the involvement of interpreters and an expansion of intercultural psychotherapeutic services for children. These children (and their parents) are often not only affected by physical stress but above all psychological stress which requires mental health care.
Lack of participation in socio-cultural activities in society
Remote accommodation or lack of financial resources make it difficult to use existing services in the communities. However, children and young people want to make friends, expand their skills and be part of a community. This desire is also supported by the Child Rights Committee with its recommendation to ensure such access. From Save the Children's point of view, accommodation should therefore be placed in locations that allow regular use of leisure activities suitable for children and good connections to public transport. In addition, refugee families need financial support for the non-formal education of their children, like other families affected by poverty are entitled to.
As part of a workshop for the participatory child and youth report, children themselves told us what they have learned and what they still want to learn. It is important that their voices are heard.