The number of unaccompanied minors arriving in Ireland more than halved last year.
According to Tusla, the State’s Child and Family Agency, some 75 minors arrived in Ireland unaccompanied by a parent or guardian last year. This was markedly down on the numbers arriving in 2019 when 181 unaccompanied minors were referred to the agency.
The vast majority of unaccompanied minors who arrived in the State last year were coming from Afghanistan (26) and Somalia (21), a country in the Horn of Africa. The year prior, the majority came from Albania (33) and Zimbabwe (30).
Sixteen minors without a parent or guardian arrived from Afghanistan, while 18 arrived from Somalia.
When an unaccompanied minor arrives in Ireland and indicates that they wish to apply for international protection, they are referred to Tusla, either by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) at the airport or port of entry, or by staff at the International Protection Office (IPO) at the Department of Justice.
Within the context of separated children seeking international protection, Tusla’s role is to “promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection.”
In order to do this, Tusla undertakes an assessment to determine if the individual is in need of child protection services and to establish the needs of the child and to inform the development of a care plan.
Last year, out of the 75 minors who arrived in Ireland, Tusla carried out just 15 assessments for eligibility to receive services under the Child Care Act 1991, as amended. Just eight unaccompanied minors were deemed eligible for services after their assessment.
Over 180 unaccompanied minors arrived in Ireland in 2019, but Tusla carried out just 24 assessments for eligibility that year. Only nine were deemed eligible for services under the Child Care Act.
Kate Duggan, Director of Services and Integration, Tusla, said there are currently 76 unaccompanied minors in the care of the Child and Family Agency with 43 of those in family placements and 33 in residential care. Another 108 young people who have aged out are receiving aftercare.
"We travel and meet with those young people and then try to determine their age and that is around physical observation, questioning them, interviewing them about their experiences at a particular point in time and we make a determination. Some of it is very straightforward.
"When it comes to 17 and 18-year-olds, our policy is we give them the benefit of the doubt.
"If we are very clear due to our determination they are over 18 we refuse that referral and it goes to the Department of Justice and they have to determine what happens to the individual.
"Some of them after any questioning around their age disappear, some of them it's a no in that it's very, very obvious to us that they are not children,” she said.
In Tusla’s experience, Ms Duggan said "most” unaccompanied minors who arrive at Ireland’s borders are “so determined” and “so motivated” to engage in their new communities and to “participate in sporting clubs, to go to school, learn English and gain an education".