The numbers of refugees arriving to Europe and to the Czech Republic are in general at record low since 2016. According to the UNHCR statistics on arrivals of refugees to Mediterranean – by far the main migration route to Europe – there were over 1 million refugees and migrants arriving to the Southern EU Member States in 2016, some 373 thousands in 2016, and “only” 95,031 individuals arriving to the Mediterranean countries in 2020. In the Czech Republic we keep recording minuscule numbers of new asylum applicants below 2000 persons annually. In 2020, a total number of 1164 persons applied in the Czech Republic for asylum, including children and Dublin cases.
Surprisingly, unaccompanied minor refugees and migrants (UAMs) are an exception to the decreasing numbers. In 2018, we recorded a total number of 31 children arriving alone in the Czech Republic. However, in 2020 66 children in total, and in April 2021, a total of 67 UAMs were accommodated in different children homes all over the country. Almost all of them were Afghan boys in the age close to 18, almost all of them openly saying that their final destination was not the Czech Republic. It seems that a new migration route to Western Europe via Serbia and Romania is the most likely explanation of this situation.
The Czech authorities, children homes and OPU had to react very quickly on this situation despite the difficult Covid restrictions. New children homes were appointed as temporary accommodation places in addition to the experienced and well equipped Home for Foreign Children in Prague (ZDC (Prague). This has been a difficult challenge for many of the newly appointed homes with staff having no experience with refugee or migrant children whatsoever and little willingness to improve it because many boys were leaving the centers after a few days. Some children homes even prevented OPU lawyers and EPIC expert from getting in touch with the UAMs and with the centers´ staff claiming that all needs of UAMs are satisfied and the disappearances are anyway inevitable. The Covid pandemic restrictions were the authorities´ reason to stop some key OPU services in the centers, which has improved in the meantime.
In fact this lesson proved the importance of alternatives like the ones offered by the EPIC project. In a crisis situation and even more in normal situations, alternative family care is necessary, suitable and the cheapest option of care for foreign children without parents. It provides individualized care tailored to the needs of every child. Without a monitoring system that can help following the “destiny” of the child, a broader integration network is a necessary precondition for a faster and more successful integration of those UAMs who stay in the country and start their new lives in the Czech Republic.