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© Hans Kohrt

Unaccompanied foreign minors

Unaccompanied foreign minors will be taken into the care of the Youth Welfare Office if they do not have a legal guardian or personal custodian in Germany. The Youth Welfare Office will arrange temporary accommodation for the child or young person(s) with a suitable individual or institution, or in other type of housing. During this time, the Office will be responsible for undertaking all legal acts that may be required for the minor’s well-being, for the minor’s necessary upkeep and for ensuring that there is adequate medical care available. The Youth Welfare Office also ensures that unaccompanied foreign minors will be immediately assigned a legal guardian or counsellor by the Family Courts.

In practice, it is initially not always possible to determine without doubt whether such persons are indeed minors or whether they have already come of age. In such cases, a qualified visual examination may initially be a suitable means to determine the age of the person concerned. Until appropriate findings have been presented, it will be assumed that the person concerned is a minor.

Are there special asylum proceedings for unaccompanied refugee minors?

There are no special asylum procedures for unaccompanied foreign minors. As for other cases, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) will examine whether there are grounds for granting protection status to the minor concerned. However, the BAMF has a number of trained special representatives available for unaccompanied minors who will ensure a child-oriented hearing during asylum proceedings and take account of all child-related factors when a decision is being reached on applications for asylum.

Can unaccompanied foreign minors be deported?

Unaccompanied minors who have not been granted protection status during asylum proceedings and who do not otherwise meet the requirements for being granted rights of residence can be deported in accordance with existing residence regulations. According to § 58 (1a) of the German Residence Act (AufenthG), however, the authorities must first ensure that such minors are returned to a family member, to a person entitled to personal custodianship of the minor or to any suitable reception centre in the country of return. Unaccompanied minors are deported only in very rare cases.

Who assumes legal guardianship for unaccompanied foreign minors and who is responsible for appointing such guardians?

Before the Family Court can appoint a legal guardian, it must first determine whether parental care is in abeyance. Unaccompanied foreign minors are assigned to a legal guardian whenever they are not under parental care, when the parents are dead or when parental care has been suspended due to real hindrance or obstacle. A real hindrance or obstacle is deemed to exist, e.g. when personal custodians are living abroad and there is no contact between them and the unaccompanied foreign minor. Such hindrance or obstacle does not exist, however, in cases in which the parents may be reached by telephone or through the postal service – even if this may be difficult or expensive, The Family Court hears the views of the Youth Welfare Office and the foreign minor and selects a legal guardian. The guardian so selected takes the person into his or her care and acts as official representative for the ward.

How long does it take to appoint a legal guardian by the Family Court?

In practice, the Family Court reaches decisions at regular intervals on whether parental care has been suspended and on appointing legal guardians. Provided the Youth Welfare Office applies immediately to the Family Court for a legal guardian or custodian to be appointed for an unaccompanied foreign minor, such proceedings will on principle be given priority and processing usually only lasts for between several days and one month. In individual cases, however, they can last for a longer period, e.g. if the foreign minors concerned leave the institution in which they have been accommodated in the meantime, usually with the aim of continuing their journey.

Where can unaccompanied minors find more information?

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) provides a comprehensive information service for unaccompanied minors. Cf. link to website below:

BAMF: Informationen für unbegleitete Minderjährige

Search for family members

Under www.tracetheface.org, refugees of up to the age of 15 years in Europe can search for relatives they may have lost during their flight and whom they think may be located in another European country. Cf. following link:

Trace the Face

Red Cross Tracing Services publish photos on "Trace the Face - kids" of children looking for their relatives and of relatives looking for their children. The website is password-protected. Only Red Cross employees are able to see such photos and are thus able to bring together those searching and those being searched for.