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African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X

Afr. hum. rights law j. vol.9 n.1 Pretoria  2009

 

ARTICLES

 

Unaccompanied minor refugees and the protection of their socio-economic rights under human rights law

 

 

Sarah Swart

Graduate, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa

 

 


SUMMARY

This paper reflects the results of a study, the main objective of which was to investigate the practical treatment of unaccompanied minor refugees in Ghana and South Africa, and to explore whether such treatment is in accordance with existing international norms and standards for the protection of refugee children. The study focused on the realisation of children's socio-economic rights in order to measure treatment. The paper seeks to address the obstacles which prevent the proper treatment of unaccompanied minor refugees, and to make recommendations as to how the international community can better regulate the treatment of unaccompanied minor refugees. In essence, this paper aims to investigate whether there is a discrepancy between the rights of child refugees acknowledged in international law, and the situation of unaccompanied minor refugees in practice and, if so, how this can be remedied. The paper seeks to show, through the case studies of Ghana and South Africa, that unaccompanied minor refugees are, to a certain extent, lost in the system.


 

 

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* LLB (KwaZulu-Natal), LLM (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) (Pretoria); sarswart@hotmail.com. This paper is based on the author's dissertation submitted in partial compliance with the requirements for the degree LLM (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) 2008. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual conference of partner faculties participating in the LLM (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa), held at the University of Pretoria, 8 and 9 December 2008.
1 For the purposes of this study, the term 'refugees' also refers to asylum seekers and, to the extent applicable, illegal immigrants.
2 http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu6/2/fs20.htm (accessed 20 August 2008).
3 C Nicholson 'A first call on available resources for child refugees in South Africa' (2005) 38 De Jure 71.         [ Links ]
4 Nicholson (n 3 above) 72.
5 'For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.'
6 General Comment No 6 (2005) Committee on the Rights of the Child 'Treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin' (para 7); http://www.ccrweb.ca/uam.htm (accessed 28 August 2008).
7 EM Ressler et al Unaccompanied children: Care and protection in wars, natural disasters, and refugee movements (1988) 4.         [ Links ]
8 Arts 3(1), 20 & 22 CRC and arts 4 & 23 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
9 GS Goodwin-Gill 'Protecting the human rights of refugee children: Some legal and institutional possibilities' in J Doek et al (eds) Children on the move: How to implement their right to family life (1996) 97.         [ Links ]
10 Ressler et al (n 7 above) 3.
11 http://www.unhcr.org/excom/EXCOM/43bce4782.pdf (accessed 22 September 2008).
12 Ressler et al (n 7 above) 3.
13 http://216.239.59.104/search?q=cache:MdSYBD9a1qIJ:www.savethechildren.net /arc/files/c_sepchil.pdf+Key+concept:+Action+for+the+Rights+of+Children+ (ARC)+Separated+children+%E2%80%93+December+2004+Foundations. &hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=gh (accessed 22 August 2008).
14 http://216.239.59.104/search?q=cache:SzafmD-qv6AJ:www.unhcr.org/cgi-in/texis/vtx/protect/opendoc.pdf%3Ftbl%3DPROTECTION%26id%3D3b84c6c67 +Refugee+Children:+Guidelines+on+Protection+and+Care&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=gh (accessed 22 August 2008).
15 As above.
16 As above.
17 http://www.africa-union.org/child/6th%20meeting/WORKSHOP-CONCEPT%20NOTE.pdf (accessed 23 April 2009).
18 http://treaties.un.org/Pages/Treaties.aspx?id=5&subid=A&lang=en (accessed 23 April 2009).
19 Such as the Revised (1995) Guidelines for Educational Assistance to Refugees, or the UNHCR policy on Refugees in Urban Areas (December 1997).
20 Ressler et al (n 7 above) 275.
21 Ressler et al (n 7 above) 272.
22 CP Cohen 'The rights of the child: Implications for change in the care and protection of refugee children' (1991) 3 International Journal of Refugee Law 683.         [ Links ]
23 n 14 above.
24 As above.
25 As above.
26 http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b3360.html (accessed 23 April 2009).
27 Sec 7(12).
28 http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4113abc14.html (accessed 23 April 2009).
29 http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/p1101 (accessed 16 August 2008).
30 n 29 above.
31 http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refworld/rwmain?page=search&docid=42dd174b4 (accessed 23 April 2009).
32 n 11 above.
33 n 11 above.
34 Ressler et al (n 7 above) 300.
35 Ressler et al (n 7 above) 4.
36 L Landau & K Jacobsen 'Refugees in the new Johannesburg' (2004) 19 Forced Migration Review 44.         [ Links ]
37 http://www.polity.org.za/article.php?a_id=134092 (accessed 14 September 2008).
38 Landau & Jacobsen (n 36 above) 45.
39 http://www.news24.com/News24/Africa/Zimbabwe/0,,2-11-1662_2158024,00.html (accessed 15 September 2008).
40 E-mail from an employee at Lawyers for Human Rights, South Africa, 1 October 2008.
41 Child Protection Rapid Assessment Musina Municipality Limpopo Province, South Africa, August 2008.         [ Links ]
42 As above.
43 As above.
44 http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/education/school_offers_hope_to_child_refugees.html (accessed 15 September 2008).
45 http://64.233.183.104/search?q=cache:QXnKvsPVZ4J:www.tac.org.za/ community/files/file/xenophobia/MEMORANDUM%2520TO%2520THE% 2520MINISTER%2520OF%2520EDUCATION%2520FROM%2520THE %2520JOINT%2520REFUGEE%2520LEADERSHIP%2520COMMITTEE %2520OF%2520THE%2520WESTERN%2520CAPE.pdf+ Memorandum+to+the+Minister+of+Education+from+the +Joint+Refugee+Leadership+Committee+of+the+Westem+ Cape+24+July+2008.&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=gh (accessed 15 September 2008).
46 n 44 above.
47 n 41 above.
48 As above.
49 As above.
50 As above.
51 As above.
52 n 40 above.
53 As above.
54 n 41 above.
55 As above.
56 As above.
57 http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-06-12-cape-officials-to-meet-on-refugee-crisis (accessed 14 September 2008).
58 http://www.tac.org.za/community/node/2343 (accessed 4 October 2008).
59 http://www.lhr.org.za/news/2008/refugees-make-mistake-knowing-their-rights-business-day (accessed 14 September 2008).
60 http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?art_id=nw20081006172807464C184214 (accessed 4 October 2008).
61 http://www.brcinternational.org/ (accessed 15 September 2008).
62 Personal observations, August-October 2008.
63 n 61 above.
64 http://www.childrenbetterway.org/ (accessed 15 August 2008).
65 In Buduburam, there are children who earn a living by pushing rented wheelbarrows full of goods for shopowners. These children are often orphans with nowhere to sleep, and no money or time to attend school. ('Children push wheelbarrows to survive in Buduburam' The Vision 21 May 2007;         [ Links ] 'Survival of the fittest: Pushing wheelbarrows to live in Buduburam' The Vision 4 August 2007).         [ Links ]
66 LS Nyan 'Teacher volunteers for Buduburam' (2004) 1 ExileNews 6.         [ Links ]
67 AA Dulleh 'Child rights abuses at Buduburam' (2004) 1 ExileNews 7.         [ Links ]
68 Interview with employee at ARCH, 3 October 2008, ARCH premises, Buduburam camp.
69 Interview with social welfare officer, 26 September 2008, Social Welfare Office, Buduburam camp.
70 'Survival of the fittest' (n 65 above).
71 'How Liberians live on the camp at Buduburam in Ghana' The Perspective 14 June 2004.         [ Links ]
72 http://www.pointhope.org/site/c.fdKIIONoEmG/b.4323915/k.E6B9/Education.htm (accessed 27 September 2008).
73 Interview with employee at CBW, 29 August 2008, CBW Offices, Buduburam camp.
74 n 71 above.
75 AA Dulleh '4000 children out of school at Buduburam' (2004) 1 ExileNews 6.
76 n 71 above.
77 Dulleh (n 75 above) 6.
78 n 71 above.
79 n 69 above.
80 Interview with employee at UNHCR, 7 October 2008, UNHCR offices, Accra.
81 Interview with employee at ARCH, 3 October 2008, ARCH premises, Buduburam camp and Interview with employee at CBW, 29 August 2008, CBW offices, Buduburam camp.
82 n 71 above.
83 http://www.pointhope.org/site/c.fdKIIONoEmG/b.4323909/k.C2D4/Medical.htm (accessed 27 September 2008).
84 n 71 above. The actual number is expected to be considerably higher.
85 n 71 above.
86 As above.
87 As above.
88 Results of a questionnaire posed to a volunteer who lived in Buduburam for three months working with refugee children, and to an employee of an NGO operating in Buduburam for the welfare of refugee children.
89 n 71 above.
90 Interview with employee at NCS, 6 October 2008, National Catholic Secretariat, Accra.
91 Interview with camp resident B, 26 September 2008, CBW guest house, Buduburam camp.
92 n 70 above.
93 n 73 above.
94 http://www.pointhope.org/site/c.fdKIIONoEmG/b.4323913/k.844F/Feed_A_Child.htm (accessed 27 September 2008).
95 Personal observations, 26 September 2008.
96 n 94 above.
97 n 71 above.
98 http://www.pointhope.org/site/c.fdKIIONoEmG/b.4323927/k.8D2A/Living_Waters.htm (accessed 27 September 2008).
99 n 73 above.
100 n 98 above.
101 n 88 above.
102 n 71 above.
103 n 73 above.
104 http://www.pointhope.org/site/c.fdKIIONoEmG/b.4323919/k.22A2/Sanitation.htm (accessed 27 September 2008).
105 As above.
106 n 71 above.
107 n 73 above.
108 n 88 above.
109 Act 130 of 1998.
110 http://hrw.org/reports/2005/southafrica1105/4.htm (accessed 3 October 2008); see sec 32(1).
111 Sec 27(g) Refugees Act & sec 28(1)(c) Constitution.
112 The Refugees Amendment Act 33 of 2008 was assented to by the President of the Republic of South Africa on 26 November 2008. Sec 21A, as inserted into the Refugees Act by the Amendment Act, deals with the provision of care to unaccompanied children.
113 Sec 21A.
114 2005 (6) SA 50 (T).
115 This has been replaced by the Children's Act 38 of 2005. The Children's Act is a far-reaching and progressive piece of legislation which requires in sec 151(1) that children regarded as in need of protection and care should be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities.
116 Unreported Transvaal Provincial Division Case 9841/2005.
117 Children's Amendment Bill - public hearings in Gauteng, Braamfontein Recreation Centre, October 2006, submission by Lawyers for Human Rights.
118 In January 2000, the Community Agency for Social Enquiry was commissioned by the UNHCR to undertake research to understand the existing situation, including an assessment of capacity and obstacles to the implementation of government health and welfare policy at national and provincial level, to examine government policies and practices regarding social service provision, and to develop guidelines to facilitate the implementation of government policy.
119 Workshop Summary: ACESS KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Review and Strategy Workshop 20-21 April 2006.
120 http://www.queensu.ca/samp/sampresources/migrationdocuments/documents/2001 /dha.pdf (accessed 20 October 2008).
121 As above.
122 n 119 above.
123 http://www.mowacghana.net/files/childrens_act.pdf (accessed 29 April 2009).
124 GS Goodwin-Gill The refugee in international law (1996) 257.         [ Links ]
125 Goodwin-Gill (n 124 above) 207.
126 Interview with officer at Liberian Welfare Council, 6 October 2008, Liberian Welfare Council Office, Buduburam camp and interview with employee at UNHCR, 7 October 2008, UNHCR offices, Accra.
127 n 80 above.
128 n 70 above.
129 Ressler et al (n 7 above) 207.
130 Ressler et al (n 7 above) 300: 'The obligations for the care and protection of unaccompanied children fall in the first instance to the authorities of the state where the children are located.'
131 Interview with Camp Manager, 26 September 2008, Camp Manager's Offices, Buduburam camp.
132 Interview with officer at Liberian Welfare Council, 6 October 2008, Liberian Welfare Council Office, Buduburam camp.
133 n 69 above.
134 http://www.mg.co.za/article/2007-07-09-out-of-harms-way (accessed 27 October 2008).
135 'South African legal system fails refugee children' Sunday Independent 26 June 2005.         [ Links ]
136 TK Livesey 'A survey on the extent of xenophobia towards refugee children' unpublished LLM dissertation, University of South Africa, 2006 27.         [ Links ]
137 M Mashele 'Home in exile: Rebuilding refugee lives in South Africa' International Refugee Day speech (2004).         [ Links ]
138 Livesey (n 136 above) 24.
139 n 120 above.
140 As above.
141 As above.
142 Ressler et al (n 7 above) 301.
143 http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71619?oid =90903&sn=Detail (accessed 22 October 2008).
144 B Harris 'A foreign experience: Violence, crime and xenophobia during South Africa's transition' (2001) 5 Violence and Transition Series in Livesey (n 136 above).         [ Links ]
145 Goodwin-Gill (n 124 above) 213.
146 Goodwin-Gill (n 124 above) 216.
147 n 71 above.
148 http://www.dfa.gov.za/foreign/Multilateral/inter/unhcr.htm (accessed 1 October 2008).
149 Ressler et al (n 7 above) 269.
150 n 131 above.
151 n 69 above.
152 n 73 above.
153 As above.
154 The UNHCR has a de facto responsibility for the care and protection of the children; it must follow its guidelines and implement its principles, as well as principles of international law.
155 http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/crp/promises/ (accessed 20 August 2008).
156 Goodwin-Gill (n 124 above) 229.
157 n 80 above.
158 n 120 above.
159 European Council on Refugees and Exiles 'Position on refugee children' (1997) 9 International Journal of Refugee Law 76.         [ Links ]
160 Concluding observations made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding Ghana's initial report 1997 (para 31).
161 n 134 above.
162 Unreported case Pretoria High Court (2006).
163 n 134 above.
164 n 120 above.
165 As above.
166 http://www.hrw.org/reports98/sareport/#_1_7 (accessed 23 October 2008).
167 n 119 above.
168 Goodwin-Gill (n 124 above) vii.
169 Arts 3(a) & (e) Constitutive Act.

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