Many refugee children who claim asylum in the Netherlands suffer from social-emotional problems. These are caused in part by the traumatic events that they have experienced in their home country or during the journey here. In her research PhD student Carla van Os shows that it is important to focus on these problems. And more importantly, she shows how to help these children explain why they need protection. Van Os will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on Thursday 14 June.
Van Os carried out Best-Interests-of-the-Child Assessments of 27 refugee children to determine their interests. These assessments provided reliable information that could help the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) decide whether to grant children asylum. Van Os’s research shows that it is possible to make an inventory of these children’s needs that is firmly based in the behavioural sciences.
The asylum procedure is a difficult process for children who have recently arrived in the Netherlands. ‘Traumatized children can find it particularly hard to explain clearly why they are seeking a safe haven in the Netherlands. The IND wants to hear a coherent and consistent story, but that is often asking too much of these children’, says Van Os. ‘Little is known about how trauma-related symptoms affect the contact between children and the IND. This research gives a first few pointers to consider, such as a longer acclimatization period and a child-friendly interpretation of their stories.’
Van Os looked at how her research was linked to different areas of law. She was struck by the variety of positions the child’s interests take in various areas of law. ‘Take child protection law. A behavioural scientist might write a report about whether the child would be safe living with its parents or whether the authorities would need to intervene and find a safe place for the child. The child’s interests are obviously of paramount importance.’
Migration law does not take the child’s interests into consideration as a matter of course. ‘It is worrying that this area of law does not usually take the child’s interests seriously. In my thesis I show that this is possible. It is important for the IND to gain an objective picture of these interests so that it can take them into account too, as per the Convention on the Rights of the Child’, says Van Os.
Van Os knows that she is conducting her research in a complicated social and political climate. ‘We carried out this research purely from the perspective of the behavioural sciences. We took a considered and precise look at the problems of refugee children. Now it is up to others to look at whether the research findings will lead to greater consideration of the interests of refugee children in migration law.’
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