Turning 18 as an unaccompanied minor in Ireland - “it was a very dark time”

  • New research puts forward recommendations for treatment of unaccompanied minors in Europe

10 June 2021

New research released today by Oxfam, the Greek Council for Refugees, the Dutch Council for Refugees, and ACLI France sounds the alarm about the risks facing young people seeking refuge in Europe. The research was conducted through interviews with refugees, frontline staff and researchers in Ireland, France, Greece, the Netherlands, and Italy.

The report looks at how unaccompanied minors across Europe are falling through the gaps and into situations of extreme vulnerability. The most worrying trend revealed in the report is the changes to supports once an unaccompanied young person in the asylum process reaches their 18th birthday.  

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: “While for many teenagers around the world, turning 18 is a milestone – a moment of joy and independence - our research finds that for minors seeking refuge in Europe, this is a moment of massive anxiety. As turning 18 symbolises losing support due to the sharp nosedive in protective legal frameworks.

“One of the key tenants of EU law is protecting minors regardless of their legal status. This protection helps shield them from the high risk of abuse, homelessness, and exploitation. Turning 18 does not mean these risks disappear overnight, yet the protection they receive dramatically shifts. No longer considered children in the eyes of the law, young unaccompanied minors can find themselves displaced for a second time.” 

Reuben, who arrived in Ireland as an unaccompanied minor and since been granted status*: “It’s hard, because you are just learning how to live with your foster family, and then you have to leave.” 

European law ensures that unaccompanied minors arriving in Europe are housed in child-appropriate accommodation and are appointed a social worker to support them with administrative and legal matters. In Ireland, unaccompanied minors in the asylum process are in many cases removed from foster or residential care once they turn 18 and are sent to Direct Provision - where they find themselves living in the same room as adult strangers and quite often in a different region to where they were first accommodated.  

Lee, who arrived in Ireland as an unaccompanied minor and since been granted status*: “You’re not fully an adult at 18, most Irish kids are still living with their parents at 18.” 

When asked what they would change about their experience, the young interviewees noted that they would like to see an end to the removal from foster or residential care to Direct Provision. They called for a more flexible system that would take the individual needs of the young person into account. Additionally, all of those interviewed noted that there were large disparities in opportunities between young people based in Dublin and those based in smaller Irish towns - with those in Dublin having better access to their aftercare worker, support organisations, and educational opportunities.

A focus group attendee stated that being allowed to stay in foster care after 18 would be good for mental health and would encourage young people to move forward. They said that it was very stressful to leave their foster family as soon as they turned 18 stating that, “it was a very dark time in their life until everything was sorted out” (Mo).

A secondary issue that arose in focus groups with professionals and guardians was the issue of family reunification law in Ireland, which is restrictive and has time restraints which give little consideration to the complexity of family tracing (locating a family member.) Interviewees gave several examples of young people whose application for family reunification was rejected because they waited too long after they received status, or they applied slightly after they turned 18**. This whole process places a massive responsibility on the young person and can cause considerable anxiety.

Clarken concluded: “With this report, we want to shed light on the traumatic and sudden process of turning 18 as an unaccompanied minor in Ireland. You go to sleep a child in the eyes of the law, and the next morning you wake up an adult and find you are stripped of many of the supports and protections you experienced when you first arrived. The security these young people were afforded is suddenly toppled.

“Oxfam will be writing to the Minister for Children, the Ombudsman for Children and the Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Children seeking meetings to discuss the findings of the report and to explore how the issues raised can be addressed.”

Erin McKay, Oxfam’s European Migration Campaign Manager and researcher and author of the Irish report section, said: “European countries need to step up. They must simplify asylum processes, set up guardianship schemes, create professional training programmes for people engaging with refugee youth, and invest in transitionary social housing with wraparound supports to help young people navigate the extremely complex systems that they find themselves in.  

“The EU also has a part to play by introducing best practices for European countries to help young people seeking protection in Europe to navigate their transition to adulthood."


* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the young people who contributed to the research report.

**Under the 2015 Act, an unaccompanied minor is entitled to reunification with his or her parents and the parents’ children under the age of 18. Aged-out minor beneficiaries of international protection who submit applications for family reunification after turning 18 years old may face difficulties in making successful applications for family reunification as they are no longer treated as children at the time of application (Cosgrave and Thornton, 2015).

Notes to editors  

  • Read the report and the report summary for ‘Teach us for what is coming: the transition into adulthood of unaccompanied minors in Europe’ . Oxfam will be hosting an EU event outlining the findings of the report on 29 June 2021. Contact Jade in our EU office at in relation to the conference.
  • The organisations who contributed to this research are Oxfam, the Greek Council for Refugees, the Dutch Council for Refugees, and ACLI France. The research was conducted through interviews with refugees, frontline staff and researchers in France, Greece, the Netherlands, Ireland and Italy.
  • According to AIDA's 2020 report, in Ireland, of the 1,926 applicants for international protection, 30 were unaccompanied minors. Numbers, as of July 2020, showed that there were 59 unaccompanied minors in the care of Tusla, the Irish Child and Family agency. A study published in 2018 cited Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Syria as their main countries of origin, with ages ranging from 13 to 17
  • In 2020 the Irish government also joined a ‘coalition of the willing’ of EU member states and committed to relocate 36 unaccompanied minors from the Aegean Islands. A Parliamentary Question put to Minister Simon Coveney on the 12 May 2021 stated that: ‘Ireland also has an existing commitment to accept 36 unaccompanied minors from Greece. Eight of these minors arrived in Ireland last June. Staff from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, along with staff from Túsla and An Garda Síochána, will travel to Greece in the coming weeks to interview 25 unaccompanied minors and 50 people in family groups, with a view to arranging their relocation to Ireland’. Minister Roderic O’Gorman reconfirmed this in a later PQ on the 27 May 2021.
  • Oxfam Ireland has been advocating for the passing of the International Protection (Family Reunification)(Amendment) Bill 2017 to address failings in Ireland’s Family Reunification system
  • Looking at the practices of five European countries the report found that incoherent policies, sparsely available essential services like language classes and difficulties accessing information on their rights severely impacts on a young person's ability to fully integrate into their new society.
  • The authors of the report also highlight good practices that can bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood. One such example is transitionary housing programmes, which help young people get on their feet, and gain autonomy. In these programmes, children about to turn 18 can move into semi-autonomous apartments where they receive support to gain financial and personal independence. The report also finds that support systems – guardians and community-based programmes – can play a significant role in easing the transition. Specialised training to staff in contact with refugee youth to improve their understanding of the asylum system should also be developed.  
  • Actions at both an EU level and a national level are crucial to improving the transition process, to create a child-centred support system coordinating local and national competencies and to make a period of intense anxiety more manageable.  

Key recommendations:

  • Simplification of the administrative procedures   
  • Support to help young unaccompanied minors (UAMs) understand the bureaucratic system, management of finances and searching for accommodation. Both legal guardians and voluntary guardians play a fundamental role in helping the young person adjust and get on their feet  
  • Accessible professional training for actors engaging with refugee youth  
  • Transitionary social housing with support services for UAMs who turn 18  
  • Coordination mechanisms at local and national levels to foster effective communication and interaction  

What can the EU do? 

While this transition to adulthood falls mainly under the responsibility of EU countries, the European Commission has begun to address issues related to UAMs turning 18. These have focused on exchanging good practices, providing funding for integration projects, encouraging EU countries to facilitate access to education and training, strengthening guardianship systems as well as promoting national strategies to move away from a reception centre approach towards family and community-based care services with an adequate focus on preparing UAMs to leave care.  

While the EU funding can play a crucial role in identifying and promoting good practices, research and promotion is not enough. There is a need for a determined approach.

Our suggestion is three-fold:  

  • Use the new cycle of EU funding to address the issues highlighted in this research and implement key recommendations 
  • Promote and coordinate data collection on the transition to adulthood to ensure sustained commitment by all EU countries on their promise of employment and education for all young people 
  • Continued mainstreaming of UAMs specific issues into broader social policies and, most importantly, a Commission Guidance on the transition into adulthood taking a holistic approach on the needs, concerns and considerations in this complex process. 
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Opportunity to ramp up production of lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines worldwide opposed by EU, again

Media Reactive

World Trade Organisation members (who met today for a council on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) have just agreed that they will engage in a text-based process on waiving Intellectual Property rules on Covid-19 vaccines, test and treatments. This means a deal, which would see a temporarily suspension of Intellectual Property, is increasingly likely. However, Europe and key governments are continuing to oppose.

In response, Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “This move to text-based negotiations is good news, because it means all WTO member states acknowledge that pharmaceutical monopolies are blocking access to life saving vaccines for millions of people and that this needs to be addressed.

“However, it is shameful that in the midst of a pandemic it has taken eight long painful months and 2.7 million deaths from Covid-19 for a handful of wealthy country government blockers to finally agree to enter formal text-based negotiations on this life saving proposal.

“Despite rising infections and the lack of vaccine stock in Africa and other regions of the world, the EU with support from Ireland continues to side with a handful of pharmaceutical corporations in protecting their monopolies against the needs of people around the world.  

“It’s unforgivable that while some are literally fighting for breath and countries continue to be overwhelmed by new waves of the virus, our political leaders continue to oppose what could be a vital breakthrough in ending this pandemic for everyone in rich and poor countries alike.  

“Ireland and the EU should now follow countries like the US and New Zealand and more than 100 developing countries and end their opposition to the TRIPS waiver. Instead, they must work together to deliver urgently needed vaccines to the world.  

“In April, Minister Simon Coveney made favourable comments about the need to ensure that the protection of vaccine patents and intellectual property rights don’t undermine efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic globally.   

“However, disappointingly, the Irish Government continues to oppose this important measure despite initial signals of support from senior Irish politicians. This is hugely regretful for the billions of unvaccinated people around the world because the reasons put forward by EU leaders to support their approach do not stand up to scrutiny, as we recently detailed in an op-ed.  

"We call on Ireland to end its support of the EU’s position and engage with fellow EU member states to reverse the EU's continued opposition to this essential intervention - that is supported by over 100 low-and middle-income countries.   

“They can do this by backing the TRIPs waiver at the WTO and by supporting the transfer of vaccine technology through the WHO’s Covid Technology Access Pool (C-TAP). More manufacturers are coming forward by the day from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Senegal, Denmark and Canada with offers to make vaccines but are now blocked from doing so.   

“While this proposal should not be seen as a 'magic bullet' to solve global vaccine supply issues it will go a long way to bringing as much vaccine production capacity online as is possible.    

“This opportunity to speed up and scale up the production of Covid-19 vaccines will save lives and livelihoods the world over.

“Oxfam Ireland — along with a number of other NGOs, faith organisations, trade unions, and medical organisations —have proposed that a relevant Oireachtas committee undertake a detailed review of Ireland’s position on the TRIPS waiver as a matter of urgency. As we begin to see the benefits of reaching herd immunity through mass vaccination, our government should not be standing in the way of the world’s poorest citizens being afforded the same access to life-saving medicine.”     



Caroline Reid | Communications Manager |

Notes to editors:

The TRIPS waiver proposal was first presented to the WTO on October 2, 2020. Since then to June 8, 2021, there have been a recorded 2.67 million deaths from Covid-19 worldwide.

WTO delegates agreed an urgent timetable to move negotiations forward ahead of the next General Council meeting in July.

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World Environment Day 2021: See how one farming community is defending itself against climate change

Sarah in her field in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. She has been farming for 25 years and in that time, changing weather patterns have affected her crop yields. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

One of the key messages of this year’s World Environment Day is that we cannot turn back time. We can, however, be the generation that makes peace with nature and make the kinds of changes that can not only ensure our survival, but that of our planet. As we prepare to mark World Environment Day this Saturday 5 May, we meet a farmer in Zimbabwe who reveals how an Oxfam initiative helped build resilience against the effects of changing rainfall patterns…


Sarah (55) is a farmer in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. For nearly 25 years, her livelihood has been at the mercy of changing weather patterns, as shifting rainfall patterns have resulted in major fluctuations in her harvests.

Where we expect it to rain [in October or November], it doesn’t rain so what we have planted doesn’t grow well because the rain hasn’t come as expected.

In 2000, Tropical Cyclone Eline, one of the strongest storms to hit south-eastern Africa, damaged the main canals on the north bank of the Nyanyadzi River, which Sarah and her family rely on to irrigate their land.

“We woke up to a field full of sand with all the crops gone,” she says. After the storm, the canals were covered with silt. To gain access to water, farmers had to shovel the canals out.

Since then, people in Nyanyadzi have been vulnerable to weather extremes, from frequent heavy rain to prolonged drought. At times, Sarah says, she has gone a month and a half without water.

Sarah is a widow and the sole provider of income and care for her children. What her family eats comes from her fields, so if her harvest is damaged, they might not be able to eat.

Sarah checks the water level at the Nyanyadzi River. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

It’s not just the crops that are affected, I wake up every day and say that I am going to work so that I can send my children to school... While I am working, I will be hoping that the crops I plant grow well, so that my children can survive, go to school, and have something to eat.

Adapting agriculture practices that protect farmers from the harmful effects of climate change

In 2014, Oxfam and partner organisations implemented Scaling up Adaptation in Zimbabwe, a project to support rural farming communities and build climate resilience. Sarah and members of her community received lessons in water management and irrigation infrastructure, including training in gabion basket-making (gabions are structures that control erosion) and construction of gully plugs (small dams that help conserve soil moisture) and silt traps. This new set-up stopped silt from moving into canals.

Now, with the canals functioning as they should, Sarah can do her job. She points out that there were no breakdowns or water shortages this year.

Sarah sells her tomatoes at the market. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

When Cyclone Idai devastated southern Africa in 2019, Sarah was mostly spared. She lost some land when the Odzi River flooded, but she considers herself lucky compared to the damages to property and loss of life others had to endure. However, the pipe that collects water was swept away. This issue has yet to be fixed. Without support, Sarah says it will have an effect on the community’s ability to secure water.

I am good farmer. If I get enough water, and I have my inputs, I really have a good farming season.

The climate crisis is affecting people in every country on every continent, but it is those with the fewest resources – like farmers in Sarah’s community – who are enduring its harshest affects. By the 2030s, large parts of Southern, Eastern, and the Horn of Africa, and South and East Asia will experience greater exposure to droughts, floods, and tropical storms.

Along with our partners, we are working with communities vulnerable to climate change, providing them with the vital adaptation techniques they need to continue to feed their families and earn an income. 

Millions facing double disaster as second Covid wave overwhelms rural India

3 June 2021

The second wave of Covid-19 has left public healthcare in shambles, warned Oxfam India today, people have lost their lives due to lack of proper medical facilities and infrastructure. While the situation is getting a little under control in cities, it is still very grim in rural India.

Around 65 percent of the total population, which is approximately 1.3 billion, live in rural India where there are issues related to access to medical facilities, hospitals, doctors, technically trained staff and testing facilities. 

Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India said: “There was a time when we woke up every day to news of death of a friend, family, acquaintance. Villages were even worse off. With no access to health care and no testing, in some cases 20-25 people from a village died within days of each other. No one in India has remained untouched by this pandemic. And most of these lives could have been saved if there was proper, adequate, and affordable healthcare for all.

“People outside the major cities do not have the same access to social media to reach out for help or raise awareness of what is happening. While a lack of testing, healthcare facilities and post-mortems, means large numbers of cases in rural communities are not being recorded.”

Oxfam India plans to strengthen the rural health ecosystem in some of the most marginalised and vulnerable communities by providing the necessary tools, training and equipment needed by frontline health workers for early identification of cases and timely referral to health centres. 

While healthcare is the primary focus, Oxfam India is also reaching out to some of the most marginalised and vulnerable communities with food. In the long-run Oxfam will work towards providing livelihood support to informal sector workers and their families. 

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “Apart from a healthcare calamity, India was already reeling under economic stress. The sporadic lockdowns and containment zones mean that once again that informal sector workers - from street vendors to domestic workers - are the worst hit. Latest report from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) states that over 10 million Indians lost their jobs in the second Covid wave and around 97 percent of household incomes have fallen since the start of the pandemic last year. 

“Millions who slipped into poverty last year due to job losses are now facing another looming crisis, hunger. India already has the largest population facing food shortages in the world, with an estimated 189 million people in India already undernourished before the pandemic began.

“We have received an incredible response to our India appeal so far. From individual donations to corporate fundraisers – the support from the people and businesses across the island of Ireland has been so heartening and is having a direct and positive impact on the ground. It is fantastic to see such global solidarity in times of crisis. To help overcome the double disaster that Amitabh and his team are seeing right now in rural India, please support Oxfam’s India Crisis Appeal at, to provide much needed food and health care supplies to the people who need it most."


For more information, please contact:

Caroline Reid | Oxfam Ireland |

Savvy Soumya Misra | Oxfam India |    

Notes to the Editors:  

  • In the second wave, Oxfam India is working with the government and local administrations to deploy 7 Oxygen generation plants, 25 ventilators, 500 Oxygen concentrators, 3000 Oxygen cylinders (40-lts capacity), 11800 Oxygen nasal masks, 300 BiPAP machines, 1200 ICU beds, around 16000 diagnostic equipment of different types, and 19000 PPE kits. We are also aiming to provide one-month dry ration supply and community safety kits to 225,000 people.
  • Oxfam are reaching out to public healthcare institutions, district administrations and COVID Care Centres with medical equipment will also reach the most marginalised and vulnerable communities with food, ration, and safety kits. 
  • Oxfam India also plans to train 35000 ASHA workers and provide them with medical kits for a larger community outreach to ensure Covid appropriate behaviour and also to tackle the issue of vaccine hesitancy.
  • Since March 2020, Oxfam India has been working in 16 states, reaching the most marginalised and vulnerable with medical supplies, food kits, cooked meals, safety and PPE kits, cash, and livelihood trainings.  
  • In the first month of Oxfam’s response to the second wave, they have provided support in Maharashtra, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh. While continuing to work in these states among the most marginalised and vulnerable communities, Oxfam India will also look at expanding to Bihar, Odisha, Assam, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Gujarat.  

About Oxfam India 

Oxfam India is a movement of people working to create a just and an equal India. We work to ensure that Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, and women and girls have safe-violence free lives with freedom to speak their mind, equal opportunities to realize their rights, and a discrimination free future. 

During the last five years, Oxfam India has responded to more than 35 humanitarian disasters across the country and directly provided relief to nearly 1.5 million people. Oxfam India’s humanitarian response is guided by the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in disaster affected areas.

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