Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has resulted in millions of people being forced to flee their homes. These include those who need special care – children who have crossed the border without their parents or legal guardians and those who have been in foster care in Ukraine.
Bearing in mind the protection of the rights of unaccompanied foreign children in Poland, on December 8 we participated in a cross-sector seminar organised by ICMPD as part of the KOMPLEKS project, which we are partnering with the Polish Migration Forum and the Office for Foreigners.
The seminar was designed to share knowledge and experience of providing assistance and protection to children separated from their parents and unaccompanied children. The meeting was attended by representatives and representatives of non-governmental organisations, local authorities, academia that deal with the issue of unaccompanied children.
The following are the summary postulates of the seminar*:
The following are the summary postulates of the seminar*:
- clear rules are required for the granting, withdrawal and control of the role of interim guardian (consideration should be given to adopting a regulation which regulates who can become a temporary guardian and under what conditions, under what circumstances this role terminates spontaneously and under what circumstances it can be withdrawn, and the rules for supervising the exercise of this role. Currently, there are cases where a guardian is appointed, for example, a boy for his underage girlfriend, or other cases where one guardian has a great group of children under his or her protection – such situations are conducive to abuse),
- effective oversight of how this role is performed is essential. Currently, the institutions do not have the instruments to carry out this monitoring,
- it may be worth considering limiting the institution of the guardian during – currently, the granting of the role of guardian is indefinite, with no foreseen path of review/inspection or withdrawal of such a role in case of abuse. It may also be worth specifying very explicitly in the legislation that when a parent comes forward to claim a child, the role of the temporary guardian ends and the child is handed over to the parent (it is necessary, concurrently, to provide for situations where such an arrangement does not serve the best interests of the child),
- a transparent system for collecting and monitoring data on children, carers is needed. The current system appears to be incomplete – some children are not recorded in it. Verification that the guardianship documents are up to date is also a practical issue. There should be a database where it can and should be reviewed whether a person is in fact still entitled to be a temporary carer for a particular child.
Regarding the situation of children who have come to Poland from foster care:
- system/mechanism for children’s empowerment is required, including an offer for young adults with disabilities and illnesses when they reach 18 years of age – nowadays, young adults simply leave the institutions (or in the case of people with disabilities are placed in another institution, most often a Social Care Centre), the system does not offer them any help, similar to the support offered to, for example, pupils in children’s homes. Individuals are left alone,
- there is a requirement for harmonisation of standards for the provision of assistance, including the standard of care and funding – the current double standard creates growing tensions: Polish foster care legislation provides, for example, restrictions on the size of the group of children entrusted to foster care, there are restrictions on the age of children placed in institutions, while these restrictions do not apply to the situation of children from Ukraine. In working with unaccompanied children, the problem of corporal punishment of children arises,
- job monitoring/training for Ukrainian staff is necessary – that in institutions for children from Ukraine, however, Polish regulations related to child welfare are respected,
- it is worthwhile to establish a “protocol of divergence” between the Polish and Ukrainian systems of working with unaccompanied children and to agree on a mutually acceptable approach to matters we understand differently. The current lack of frank conversation generates chaos and highly inconsistent institutional action.
- the topic of education for children arriving from Ukraine is enormous – in Warsaw, more than half (52%) of children remain outside the Polish education system. An online registration system for children’s education in the Ukrainian system would be valuable. Power cuts in Ukraine mean that remote education often does not work in practice,
- It does not exist, but there is a need for a system to share information and monitor whether a child from Ukraine who declares online learning is actually learning,
- Children learning online also need contact with their peers, opportunities to integrate in both Ukrainian and Polish-speaking groups, mental health support, contact with safe adults, and mobilisation to move out into the fresh air.
Border traffic/border crossing:
- problems are caused by not allowing or hindering the entry into Poland of persons who left their children in Poland during previous stays in Poland (there are such cases). This is part of a wider challenge: when persons who are war refugees from Ukraine and enjoy temporary protection in Poland under the Special-purpose Act after a short trip to Ukraine (not exceeding the 30 days allowed under the Special-purpose Act) are required by the Polish Border Guard to obtain a visa/stay card or to fulfil the conditions for visa-free entry (without distinguishing between war refugees and the particularities of their legal status and that of other persons). Correctly formulating the purpose of entry (due to the war in Ukraine and the desire to enjoy temporary protection in Poland) and having an electronic residence permit diia.pl is helpful. However, it is not always possible to obtain it: there are refugee groups that cannot currently obtain diia.pl. Language difficulties may result in refugees not correctly formulating the purpose of their entry to Poland (and thus not fulfilling the entry conditions),
- amendments to Ukrainian legislation (specifically, the law passed in Ukraine on December 1 on the possibility of short leave for military personnel within Ukraine) may soon lead to even more widespread circular migration – in this case of women with children to Ukraine for family reunification. It would be worthwhile for Polish legislation to take these developments into consideration,
- There is a lack of clear information for Ukrainian people, e.g. that in Poland it is not possible to leave a child in the care of the person from whom you rent a room, etc. Often, Polish legislation is unclear to Ukrainians.
In terms of under-researched groups:
- uniformity should be sought for all children regardless of their nationality and the manner that brought them to the territory. Currently, foreign children from other countries do not enjoy the protection provided for Ukrainian children. This places them in a situation of particular risk,
- the fact that children are left unattended by their parents/guardians after crossing the border constitutes a problem (including child abandonment). Instruments are needed to monitor whether carers are actually caring for the child and to verify the quality of care,
- prevention of family separation – is necessary. The situation of war and flight for many parents is traumatic. Some cannot cope with parenting and cannot take care of their children. Supporting such parents will help reduce the number of children abandoned in Poland, or taken away due to neglect or violence.
Not present in the current legislation:
- strategies for the return of children to Ukraine (after the war, but also now, if such a decision is taken), e.g. whether the decisions that children receive in Poland (if they arrived without them) will be taken into consideration in Ukraine, how the return of groups of children residing in Poland to the country will take place, etc.
The meeting was held as part of the project Kompleks – comprehensive support for people with special needs in the Polish migration management system, which is financed by the “Home Affairs” Programme implemented under the Norwegian Funds 2014-2021. The programme is at the disposal of the Minister of the Interior and Administration.
The project partners are the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), the Polish Migration Forum, the Association for Legal Intervention and the Office for Foreigners.
* compiled by A. Kosowicz, Warsaw, December 9, 2022.