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Credit Mstyslav Chernov

Refugee camp in Greece. Image courtesy of Mstyslav Chernov.

Legal training for aid workers to help protect migrant children from exploitation

Aid workers in refugee camps and shelters in Greece are receiving legal training to help keep migrant children safe thanks to an expert from the University of Exeter.

Dr Ana Beduschi is delivering guidance to those working with families and unaccompanied young people so they can support them to make applications for asylum, and make them aware of their legal rights.

Charity workers in refugee camps and shelters in Greece often have no legal training. Dr Beduschi hopes by sharing her knowledge and expertise they will save lives and stop unaccompanied children disappearing from aid camps to live on the streets of Europe.

The project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, also includes a toolkit to help social workers and immigration officials understand the law and assess how vulnerable the child migrants are. This covers UN guidance and definitions, why it is important to support children travelling with family, why certain groups like the Yazidi children need particular support, and a list of all legal instruments which protect the rights of migrant children.

A legal training workshop for aid workers was held in Athens this week. A further training session will be held in London in early March, in partnership with the Refugee Law Initiative from the School of Advanced Study at the University of London. The event will be attended by NGO staff, as well as representatives from the Home Office, Save the Children, Red Cross, Migration Policy Institute, and Unicef. University of Exeter psychologists will attend to give expert information about the impact of trauma on children.

The work is a response to requests from those helping migrant children in Greece and in the UK for training in the legal guidance they should provide for children. The workshops cover international migration law, how to support children suffering from trauma and how to protect them from human traffickers.

The impact of this work, will be evaluated over the next two years. Dr Beduschi is carrying out this work with Dr Kyriaki Patsianta, a barrister at the Network for Children’s Rights in Greece, and with Professor Huw Williams, Associate Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology and Co-Director of the Centre for Clinical Neuropsychology Research (CCNR) at the University of Exeter.

Dr Beduschi said: “Our aim is to help protect the rights of children who have suffered extreme trauma after escaping horrific violence and conflict.

“We have found that those staff working in refugee camps rarely have enough knowledge to give legal advice or help children through the asylum process. They also lack the knowledge to assess specific mental health issues caused by trauma.

“Currently many unaccompanied refugee children in mainland Greece are living on the streets without any legal or social protection. This leaves them open to exploitation, a heart-breaking situation when they are already vulnerable and traumatised.

“We aim to develop a tool that will be easy to use by frontline aid workers and which will help those working with traumatised children to judge how vulnerable they are and adopt decisions on their best interests. We hope aid workers will find it valuable.”

Date: 1 February 2017

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