Protection and care of unaccompanied and separated children fleeing Ukraine

A study on regional and national legal frameworks

13 July 2022
© UNICEF/UN0651270/Filippov

UNICEF is continuously supporting the protection and care of children arriving from Ukraine unaccompanied, separated from their families or who are placed in alternative care.

In order to support these efforts, in early May 2022, UNICEF, Eurochild and Child Circle collaborated on a discussion paper on guardianship, care arrangements and custodial responsibility for unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) fleeing Ukraine and arriving in the European Union. The paper focuses on how care, custodial arrangements and guardianship protect children and how these measures are established within EU Member States. It also looks at how children access protection, how information is managed and how durable solutions are identified and secured for children.

In parallel, UNICEF and Eurochild undertook a national level mapping exercise on laws and policies for children in alternative care and UASC from Ukraine who have arrived in 13 European countries, including: Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom. The mapping aims to contribute to policy dialogue between the Ukrainian government, EU Member States and non-EU countries to support cooperation mechanisms among them.

Together, these analyses show the urgent need to improve legal clarity - and reduce the complex procedures in applying international, regional and national legal instruments to the various situations of UASC coming from Ukraine.  Indeed, different laws may apply to different children arriving from Ukraine, depending on their circumstances. Consequently, it is not always clear to authorities encountering children from Ukraine which legal rules take the lead and should be applied in an individual case and at what time. The ability to find common solutions across Europe will benefit from a clearer understanding of the different systems that exist and an exploration of how they may be applied or adapted to the current situation.

As a next step, UNICEF, in close consultation with UNHCR, has initiated a legal analysis that aims to  unpack the relevant international and regional legal frameworks as they relate to unaccompanied and separated refugee children as a result of the war in Ukraine. The complexities are numerous, and overlapping: International Refugee Law, International Child Rights Law (the Convention on the Rights of the Child) the EU’s Temporary Protective Directive, Private International Law (relevant Hague Conference treaties) – are just a few of the legal frameworks that have relevance for decision making at national level on children’s futures. This is coupled with guidance being issued by the European Commission and other entities, which continues to evolve.

The legal analysis will be carried out by Child Circle, with the aim being to allow Child Circle the space to conduct the analysis in an impartial manner. In addition to unpacking global and regional frameworks, Child Circle will provide analysis on a minimum of 6 countries that have (and continue) to receive separated and unaccompanied children, including children evacuated from institutions and boarding schools. A detailed description of the scope and approach of the study is provided in the Concept Note, found here.

Recognizing the UN’s convening role among key European and international legal and policy entities, and the complexities that need to be addressed at both regional level and at country level – this legal analysis is being undertaken with a reference group comprised of key European and international stakeholders

The legal analysis is furthermore linked to the Regional Child Protection Sub-Working Group (CP SWG), established under the Refugee Coordination Model. The drafters of the legal analysis will share regular updates with CP SWG, and members of the CP SWG will be invited to review drafts and provide feedback. UNICEF, UNHCR, and EuroChild are all a part of the reference group for the legal analysis, and are also members (and in the case of UNICEF and UNHCR – co chairs) of the CP SWG.

Together, these analyses are informing how EU and non-EU countries and other stakeholders can be supported in addressing common questions of concern and challenges, while keeping the best interests of the child at the centre of all actions.


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Iryna Mazur
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF Europe and Central Asia


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