Hibbe, a boy who I met yesterday in Gothenburg, is a really tough one. He is 15 years old, plays football in his free time and wants to become a social worker. A social worker, just like many of the adults that are working in the place where he lives. Just like those people who help him with his homework every day after school, and together with whom he prepares the dinner at home. Preferably pizza.
Hibbe has fled from Afghanistan to Sweden. For the last part of the journey he travelled without his family. He is one of the 12000 unaccompanied minors who come to Europe every year and apply for asylum (the number is probably higher due to unrecorded cases). Some of them are orphans, others were separated from their parents when they fled, and some have their parents back home, hoping for a brighter future for their child. What they all have in common is that they are children in need of help and assistance from society until they become of age and can take care of themselves.
I get angry when boys and girls like Hibbe are reduced to a cost for society in the debates. When children are being treated like criminals and are detained, just because they have come to Europe. They are children without parents, fleeing war and conflicts, coming here by themselves, and they need to be offered assistance in order for them to grow up in safety just like other children.
I will carry Hibbe’s story, and his plans for the future, with me in my work as Commissioner. It is a delight to see successful examples of how we can receive children and young people who come to Europe. I saw such an example today when I visited Gandalf, a home for unaccompanied minors. It was truly wonderful to meet dedicated staff that happily told me about the people who had lived there previously, and about how well they have managed, how they have moved on, got a job and family. Good examples of good reception have to be spread and good experiences shared. We need to significantly improve the reception of unaccompanied refugee children in Europe today, and we must never forget that it is always about children or young people like Hibbe. Never a cost, never a number in the statistics. Never illegal.
You can read the latest commission report on unaccompanied children here.