Making migration safe

Joint op-ed by Debora Comini, UNICEF Regional Director, East Asia and Pacific and Igor Driesmans, Ambassador of the European Union to ASEAN

15 December 2021
Children laugh outside their homes in slum settlement village in Sabah.

Today, 18 December marks International Migrants Day. A day to recognize the contributions migrants make to communities throughout the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region and the challenges and difficulties they still face.

This is a dynamic region where migration can offer opportunities and benefits to families and their children, to the communities they join and the people they leave behind. But millions of child migrants and children of migrants continue to face risks. This can and must change.

Regardless of why children migrate, whether they accompany their parents, migrate alone or are left behind by their caregivers, they frequently struggle with restricted access to health, education and protection services. The COVID-19 pandemic made this worse, with migrants frequently overlooked in the pandemic response, and children forgotten in discussions on its impact on migrant workers.

Risks for children can be reduced and challenges overcome when the right policies are in place and implemented. In 2019, the ASEAN Member States, led by the Royal Thai Government, adopted the ASEAN Declaration on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration. In October 2021, they took this further with the Regional Plan of Action for Implementing the Declaration, giving their commitment to ensure that children are considered in all relevant policies and practices.

We congratulate ASEAN on this achievement and look forward to supporting Member States in making the Declaration and the Regional Plan of Action a reality for all children in the context of migration.

The ASEAN framework is clear – children do not lose their rights when they migrate. In fact, children require enhanced protection and support. Early action is needed to provide schooling, healthcare and protection for all children affected by migration. The Declaration also addresses ending the harmful practice of immigration detention of children, promoting in its place non-custodial alternatives that ensure children are kept together with their families. This is crucial to protect every migrant child.

The Declaration and its Regional Plan of Action represent an unprecedented opportunity to address the risks for children, complementing ongoing efforts to implement the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. We trust it will also bring strengthened cross-border cooperation, where appropriate, through the development of bilateral cross-border agreements.

Let us seize the opportunity to respond and reimagine a recovery from COVID-19 that includes migrant children and their families. We can turn vulnerability into potential, marginalisation into inclusion, and ultimately, truly transform migration from a challenge to an opportunity for everyone.



The authors are Debora Comini, UNICEF Regional Director, East Asia and Pacific and Igor Driesmans, Ambassador of the European Union to ASEAN.

UNICEF, supported by the European Union, has since 2018 been implementing the cross-regional programme “Protecting Children Affected by Migration in Southeast, South and Central Asia”. Through improved child protection services and an enabling environment, the overall goal of this cross-regional, multi-country initiative, is to ensure that children affected by migration are protected and their rights promoted. The initiative aims to make child protection systems inclusive, enhance policies and procedures that provide better access to child protection systems, and to ensure international, regional and national bodies recognize the rights of children affected by migration.

Media contacts

Shima Islam
Regional Communication Specialist
UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific
Tel: +66 (0)23569407
EU Delegation to ASEAN


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

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