Many unaccompanied minors wait years for clarity on their protection or immigration status

30 Nov 2018
  • In 2017, 175 unaccompanied minors were referred to Tusla, an increase since 2014 when 97 were referred 
  • All unaccompanied minors placed in care are assigned a social worker and receive care on a par with other children in the care system 
  • Unaccompanied minors with protection status have access to integration supports including aftercare. However very few unaccompanied minors are awarded this status, partly because of delays in making applications
  • These children rarely apply for alternative immigration statuses. Therefore most unaccompanied minors in Ireland do not have a clear protection or immigration status.

An unaccompanied minor is a child under the age of 18 who arrives in Ireland unaccompanied by a parent or responsible adult. Unaccompanied minors with no protection or immigration status at age 18 have reduced access to supports compared to those with status. A new ESRI study finds that when unaccompanied minors turn 18 without status they are often transferred from a care placement to direct provision accommodation as asylum seekers, where provision of aftercare supports is challenging.

Sarah Groarke, lead author of the report, commented, ‘Unaccompanied minors living in Ireland generally receive a high level of care compared to those living in other EU Member States. Civil society organisations observe that when a child has secured an immigration or protection status before turning 18 years old, the system works very well for them. However, the vast majority face numerous challenges when they leave the care of the State and go into Direct Provision accommodation without resolution of their status. This study shines some light on those challenges.’

Some unaccompanied minors have arrived in Ireland as part of a dedicated scheme, including 22 under the EU Relocation Scheme and 41 as part of the Calais Special Project. The majority of these children were granted refugee status on arrival or shortly thereafter.

However, most arrive in Ireland spontaneously to seek protection from conflict, persecution or serious harm, to reunite with family members or for education reasons. While most of these children eventually apply for protection, few receive a decision before the age of 18. This is partly due to delays in making the application. In some cases social workers don’t submit applications for some time as they feel that the child is not ready for the process or fear that a negative decision would lead to the child going missing. Between 2014 and 2017, the number of applications for protection ranged between 30 and 34 per year. Unaccompanied minors rarely apply for alternative forms of immigration permission.

In 2017, 175 unaccompanied minors were referred to the care of Tusla, up from 97 in 2014. The increase is partly reflective of the global rise in people seeking protection and Ireland’s commitment to accept minors as part of dedicated schemes. The most common countries of origin were Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria and Ethiopia. Of those referred in 2017, 53 were female and 123 were male. More than 50 per cent of unaccompanied minors referred are aged between 16 and 17.

Regardless of their status, all unaccompanied minors are referred to Tusla. They are assigned a social worker and receive care on a par with other children in the care system. A small number are reunited with family already in Ireland or other countries such as the UK. Most are placed in foster care, supported lodgings or residential units. However, at the age of 18, their status determines the options available to them in terms of accommodation, education and other supports.

For further information, please contact: 

Sarah Groarke, Researcher at the Irish National Contact Point of the European Migration Network, ESRI 
Phone: 01 8632134
Email: [email protected]

Samantha Arnold, Researcher at the Irish National Contact Point of the European Migration Network, ESRI

Phone: 01 8632047

Email: [email protected]


Notes for editors

  • Approaches to Unaccompanied Minors Following Status Determination in Ireland by Sarah Groarke and Samantha Arnold will be published on the ESRI website and the EMN Ireland website at 00:01, 4 December 2018. The embargo is 00:01, 4 December 2018 
  • The Irish National Contact Point of the European Migration Network, ESRI, will launch the report at a conference in The Morrison Hotel, Ormond Quay Lower, Dublin 1 on 4th December 2018 at 9:00 am.
  • The ESRI acts as the Irish National Contact Point of the European Migration Network (EMN). The aim of EMN is to provide up-to-date, objective, reliable and comparable information on migration and asylum at member state and EU-level (see
  • The EMN is co-funded by the European Commission DG Migration and Home Affairs and the Irish Department of Justice and Equality.