Academic journal article Refuge

Children Alone, Seeking Refuge in Canada

Academic journal article Refuge

Children Alone, Seeking Refuge in Canada

Article excerpt


Using comparisons with international policies and practices, this paper highlights the ambiguities in the identification, case processing, care, and protection of separated children in Canada. It calls for systemic studies of government policies and institutional practices that impact separated children, so that Canadians can take more principled positions towards them. Our current lack of knowledge about separated children puts this highly vulnerable group at greater risk of exploitation and neglect.


A l'aide de comparaisons entre les politiques et les pratiques internationales, l'article met a jour les ambiguites concernant l'identification, le traitement, le soin et la protection des enfants separes au Canada. Il demande que soient menees des etudes systemiques sur les politiques gouvernementales et les pratiques institutionnelles qui touchent les enfants separes afin que les Canadiens puissent adopter des positions mieux informees. Notre meconnaissance actuelle au sujet des enfants separes rend ce groupe deja vulnerable encore plus a risque detre exploite et neglige.


In international comparisons, how a country takes care of its vulnerable populations is often used as an indicator of its human and social development. In most instances, children and refugees are both counted among vulnerable populations. However, when children separated from or unaccompanied by adults responsible for their care seek refuge in a country, they are viewed from two very different perspectives. People who see them as the cargo of human traffickers, or as "anchors" sent ahead by parents wanting to follow them, tend to believe that their good care and protection will only encourage exploitative adults who have used them for their own interests. Others, who see them primarily as children, claim they are in "double jeopardy" because of the circumstances under which they have left their countries and the absence of supportive adults in countries where they have arrived. Very little is empirically known about them. They continue to remain invisible and voiceless, not only because of their inability to speak for themselves, but also because of societal ambivalence towards them, in Canada as well as in other countries.

Bhabha suggests that inconsistent treatment of these children in North America is based on "two opposing normative frameworks--immigration control preoccupations on the one hand, and welfare protection (including child rights) concerns on the other." (1) This ambivalence is reflected in social policies and public services available to separated children seeking asylum in Canada. We have yet to confront what Bhabha and Young call the Janus-like position of societies, on the one hand wanting to protect the rights of children and, on the other hand, wishing to protect the rights of the government. (2) Using comparisons with other countries, this paper identifies some ambiguities in policies and practices towards separated children seeking asylum in Canada. In doing so, it makes a case for a more coherent effort to fill the gaps in our knowledge so that we can take a more principled position towards these children.

International Context

In general, armed conflicts, political upheavals, radical climatic changes, economic hardship and deprivation, and global economic restructuring are considered major reasons for international migration. The 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol were the first major international treaties designed to accommodate refugees in the aftermath of World War II. These were followed by other international agreements such as the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which relates specifically to the protection of separated children. Article 2 of this document states that all rights identified in the CRC must apply to all children in the State; Article 3 emphasizes that "the best interest" of the child should guide all actions of the States concerning unaccompanied children; and Article 12 states that the children have the right to participate in decisions affecting them. …

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