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Mobile app support migrant children

Tarek, who fled Syria and ended up in Belgium, took part in developing an app to help migrant children to a safe journey through Europe. Tarek and the other youth in the reference group, felt proud to have been given the opportunity to give their opinions to adults and feel that their voices mattered.

Street Photo by Daniel Osorio (Dani Oshi). Brussels, Belgium, Europe, 2013
© Daniel Osorio

Tarek* is an 18-year old boy who experienced the violence and turmoil in Syria, and decided to cross over to Europe alone to find safety. Along his journey, he met many people who wanted to help him, some were friendly and some weren’t. Since he couldn’t speak the language, he could only rely on snippets of information he got from others in the same situation as him. He often felt completely alone and abandoned.

Looking back, Tarek realises how dangerous his situation was and how often he was in a vulnerable position.

When Missing Children Europe, the European federation for missing and sexually exploited children, invited him to give advice on their new app called Miniila, he was sceptical first. It was the first time he was being asked to voice his opinions to adults.

Getting the children onboard

Missing Children Europe’s challenge was to convince this group of unaccompanied children that their opinions were valuable in ensuring the success of the app. To create a safe space, the group was asked to create a fictional character, and to imagine what their most pressing needs and questions would be. This helped them start talking about the reality of being a child migrant.

“When you’re on the road, the only thing you think of is food and shelter.”

— Tarek

Food and shelter were the most important things, and then contacting family and stay in touch with other migrants encountered along the way. Therefore, finding out how to get a phone, buy a sim card and get free wifi are crucial.

They also brought up the usefulness of knowing what rights migrant children have in Europe. For example, where and with which documents they could claim asylum, how to access services such as health, schooling and migration authorities.

Learning how to say “hungry” in Italian

The children’s opinions often confirmed Missing Children Europe’s ideas, but helped to better understand priorities and modify the app accordingly.

However, a game-changer was when Tarek described the frustration of not being able to understand the language, and how it eventually affected the kind of support they were able to find. What if the app could teach how to pronounce words like bread, water, clothes, tired, cold, phone, want, need in European languages? This shed light on a simple yet effective functionality of the app that could make a big difference for so many children.

To Missing Children Europe, it was reassuring and motivating to see how proud Tarek and the rest of the group felt about the opportunity to share their opinions. It was clear that they did not often have a space to express their opinions to adults or to feel that their opinions mattered.

Children are rarely asked for their opinion when developing initiatives, laws and policies aimed to help children. Yet these efforts eventually have a direct impact on their present and future lives, their safety and happiness. Missing Children Europe wanted to change this and listen to the children’s experiences and needs, to make the Miniila app as effective as possible.

“If it can help make some other kid’s journey a bit better than mine, the app will already be a success,” said Tarek.

* Personal details changed to protect privacy