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PA OPINION

The technology to protect child migrants already exists

Today is World Refugee Day 2018, a reminder to focus support on the families and children forced to flee conflict, persecution and poverty around the world. The suffering of these people is a global priority - the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals target ending violence against children, modern slavery and human trafficking. And we believe the technology to help meet these goals already exists.

In recent years, millions of people entered Europe from parts of the Middle East and North Africa, crossing some of the most treacherous migration routes in the world. It’s difficult to manage their safe passage, particularly that of unaccompanied and separated children.

In the first five months of 2018, a quarter of the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Greece and Italy were children. Up to 90 per cent of them travelled alone. As a global community, keeping migrant children safe is one of the most complex challenges we face.

We need to better understand the scale of child migration

Collecting, sharing and using data consistently and reliably is crucial to building an accurate understanding of the scale of the challenge. The more we know about the numbers of migrant children and their needs, the better we can support those at risk and, where possible, help reunite them with their families.

We need more than just an identification system. Collecting and sharing data on the violence and exploitation suffered by migrant children would inform future policy and help find and dismantle trafficking networks across borders. By gathering stories from those who have been trafficked, exploited or victims of violence, we can map trends and expose vulnerabilities to help police, governments and safeguarding agencies respond.

Governments, NGOs and the private sector are already working on these issues. For example, the UK recently announced a £20m investment in the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, a public-private partnership. However, the fund has found that a lack of global coordination is making it easier for traffickers to target vulnerable people.

Better data will be critical to improving that coordination and could support more detailed programmes of research and analysis of migratory trends. By assessing trends in mass displacement, we can aide governments in being better prepared for what’s to come. 

Proven, cost-effective technology is already available to protect migrating children

We already have the technologies we need. From travel cards like Oyster in London, to common contactless technologies, commercial organisations have increasingly sophisticated ways to follow the movement of goods and people, and provide access to services. Such technologies have been proven on a large scale, such as with metropolitan travel. That makes them a flexible, cost-effective way to provide access to essential support services.

At PA, we’ve designed and implemented biometric programmes for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), so we know there are a range of ways for technologies and biometrics to support refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. A system like the one used by UNHCR could help monitor migrant children and support their safety and wellbeing. It could also make it easy to share data between countries, consolidating information and coordinating support.

Additionally, it’s possible to develop a non-invasive, cost-effective smartcard that allows migrant children to check into facilities and quickly access information. This could help them stay safe and alert authorities if they go missing.

These technologies will only be effective if there is increased standardisation of the processes that care for asylum seeking and refugee children. That needs to include a fair and fast method for assessing the age of child migrants and universal registration and casework systems. As such, information could be moved efficiently between countries, reducing bureaucracy and helping provide appropriate care.

In response to Europe’s refugee crisis, the UN has devised a roadmap to protecting unaccompanied and separated children. While a lot of it can be achieved with existing technologies, work also needs be done to protect children’s emotional wellbeing and help them settle into their new communities. But by starting with the technology, holistic solutions to safeguarding some of the world’s most vulnerable people are well within our reach.

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