The unaccompanied child
- is under 18 years old;
- stays in Belgium without his parent(s) or (legal) representative;
- has filed an application for international protection or stays in Belgium without legal residence documents.
Unaccompanied minors in Belgium have a legal status with additional rights, which is regulated by the Guardianship Act (Programme Law (I) (Art. 479) - Title XIII - Chapter VI: Guardianship of unaccompanied foreign minors, 24 December 2002).
Registration of the asylum application
When the application for asylum filed by an unaccompanied child is registered in Belgium, a guardian is assigned to him by the Guardianship Service, which comes under the FPS Justice. The Immigration and other authorities can express their doubts about the minor’s age to the Guardianship Service. Next, the Guardianship Service commissions an age determination test. The medical test (a triple radiograph of the teeth, collarbone and wrist) that can be performed afterwards, takes place in a hospital, with which the Guardianship Service cooperates.
The role of the representative has been defined by law in the Guardianship Act.
The personal interview
The unaccompanied minor is invited to a personal interview, assuming that the child has sufficient power of discernment.
The invitation to the personal interview is sent to the guardian’s chosen place of residence (with a copy being sent to the child’s place of residence and to the Guardianship Service).
The personal interview is conducted between the specialised protection officer and the child. If desired, the child is assisted by a lawyer and a trusted person. This trusted person cannot be family. It has to be a person who, because of his profession, is specialised in assisting persons or in aliens’ law. The child is also assisted by a guardian (see further).
As it is not easy for a child to tell its asylum story to an unknown protection officer, a guardian assists the child during the personal interview at the CGRS. For an unaccompanied child, the presence of the guardian during the personal interview (also provided for in the Guardianship Act) is particularly important. The CGRS always arranges the interview with an unaccompanied child in consultation with the guardian. This allows the guardian to prepare the interview, thoroughly and with enough time, together with the child.
- appoints a lawyer for the child;
- ensures that the child's rights are respected throughout the procedure granting international protection;
- provides support to the child during the interview;
- can submit relevant information, documents, medical reports or notes about the child's application for international protection to the CGRS, or inform the latter about specific issues that are important to the child before or after the personal interview;
- makes sure during the personal interview that the child is able to tell everything that has led to the application for international protection or is related to his or her fear;
- is the only person present who is allowed to interrupt during the personal interview and make notes or additions within the framework that is determined by the protection officer conducting the personal interview.
Adapted assessment of the application for international protection
When assessing the application for international protection, the CGRS applies the benefit of the doubt in the broadest possible sense. The higher interest and the vulnerability of the child are crucial in this respect. Children experience the world around them in a different way than adults and interpret things and events in a child-specific manner. Children cannot be expected to know the answer to all questions or to always answer unambiguously.
Where desirable and possible, the CGRS calls witnesses for an interview (uncles, aunts, etc. who are staying in Belgium) to clarify the child's situation. Finally, the CGRS uses child-specific information to study the child's situation as thoroughly as possible and assess it correctly.
In his decision, the Commissioner General uses a language that is adapted to the age and profile of the unaccompanied child. The guardian receives the original decision; the lawyer and the unaccompanied child both receive a copy of the decision.
You can find more information on the procedure for international protection for unaccompanied children in the following brochure: “Guide for unaccompanied minors who apply for asylum in Belgium”. This guide is available in ten languages.