Every year, 5 million children and adolescents travel along the migration routes from and within West and North Africa. Many are unaccompanied minors who are exposed to considerable risk. At its meeting on 30 March, the Federal Council decided to provide around CHF 21.8 million in funding over the next four years to help protect underage migrants and create better local prospects for them.
As part of its foreign policy on migration, Switzerland helps countries of origin and transit to better protect and integrate migrants on the ground. In the longer term, it also aims to address the multiple root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement. Switzerland’s migration policy activities are focused on North, Central, and West Africa, along with the Middle East, the Western Balkans, and the Horn of Africa.
Intra-African migration is a major issue in West and North Africa. Poverty, lack of economic prospects, armed conflicts, climate change, and, especially for girls, rigid traditions and social customs are some of the main reasons for underage migrants to leave their homes. The COVID-19 pandemic and the social and economic fallout have exacerbated migratory pressures in the region and made migration routes even more dangerous.
The UN estimates that over 45 million people are now living outside their country of origin, including 5 million minors, some of whom are unaccompanied. Almost 50% of these underage migrants are girls and young women, many of whom are at risk of falling prey to traffickers, drug dealers, and other criminal organizations, or of being recruited by extremist groups with links to terrorism.
Improving prospects for migrant children and adolescents
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) are therefore launching a joint project to create better prospects for children and adolescents. The project will support efforts to safeguard the rights of underage migrants, protect them from abuse, and provide access to basic education. It will also create opportunities that help children and adolescents integrate better into their countries and regions of origin and deter them from making perilous boat journeys across the Mediterranean to Europe.
The first phase of the project will focus on Tunisia, Morocco, Guinea, Mali, and Niger, with the bulk of the funds allocated to the assistance and integration of children and adolescents in the region. Around 26% of the funding will be used in Morocco and Tunisia – key departure points for irregular underage migrants hoping to reach Europe.
The project is being launched in response to the thematic focus on migration under the International Cooperation Strategy 2021–24 and complements the work of another Swiss-backed project on the East African migration route.