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This article was written for the RSC Newsletter Summer 2013, now available to download

Panel discussion at the ERPUM workshop © RSC / I McClelland / 2013
Panel discussion at the ERPUM workshop

On Friday 3 May, the Refugee Studies Centre hosted a workshop in Oxford, co-convened by Martin Lemberg-Pedersen (University of Copenhagen) and Dawn Chatty (RSC), to subject the European Return Platform for Unaccompanied Minors (ERPUM) project to a comprehensive and multidisciplinary examination.

The project, involving several European countries and concerned with ensuring the ordered and secure return of unaccompanied minors who have received final rejection of their asylum applications, has raised a number of concerns: What are the moral implications? Are ERPUM’s goals compatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Why are members reluctant to share information about the project?

In the opening session Martin Lemberg-Pederson outlined the evolution of the ERPUM project from its initial conception to its current status. The official coordinating actor behind the ERPUM project is the Swedish Migrationsverket (Migration Board), and other core members include the UK, the Netherlands and Norway. The first grant application was submitted in 2010 and the project has so far devoted most of its attention to unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan.

In the second session, Liza Schuster spoke about Afghan perspectives. Schuster said that the Afghan government has expressed concerns for the children and their families, and are reluctant to be seen to collude in actions that will result in the loss of families’ investments and an end to their hope of a child educated and working in Europe. One government representative had argued that it would be better if ERPUM members could let the minors finish their education and then think of a return mechanism, and another had expressed concern that returned minors might end up joining the insurgents.

In the third session, Rebecca Stern looked at ERPUM and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Concern has been expressed, not least by child rights organisations, as to whether the project is compatible with the rights and obligations established by the CRC. Article 3.1, stating that ‘the best interest of the child should be a primary consideration’, as well as Article 6, on the right to life and development, and Article 12, on a child’s right to express his/her views and for them to be accorded due weight, were each considered in the context of the project.

In the fourth session, Matthew Gibney examined the ethical groundings of ERPUM. The first value that the project claims to promote is the integrity of the asylum system. However, Gibney argued that there is room for nuance and using the welfare of children as an ends to achieve an institutional goal is morally dubious. The second value, ‘respect for home’, is defensible because it returns people to where they belong. On the contrary, Gibney argued that these children have a powerful moral claim to citizenship in the European countries in which many have become integrated. The third value embedded in the ERPUM project is that of security but grave doubts were expressed about whether any person living in Afghanistan today can enjoy a secure life, especially returned children.

Despite the failure of ERPUM to adequately address these concerns and others debated during a final panel session, the project was renewed in December 2012 and scheduled to run from 1 January 2013 to 30 June 2014, receiving funds from each of the participating states in addition to an unspecified amount from the EU.

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