Story of change

Giving migrant children a voice through Miniila

The Miniila app stands for empowerment. Empowering children to make better decisions for themselves. Empowering children by giving them access to understandable information on the support that exists. Empowering children through understanding their rights. And finally, by giving them the chance to help others, like them, who continue to go through the same challenges they have gone through.

This is why, Missing Children Europe involved Tarek* and other youth, that were once unaccompanied migrant children, in the development of the Miniila app. Tarek is an 18-year-old boy from Syria who like the other youth have made the journey into Europe and are now building their life in Belgium. Tarek was only a child when he escaped the violence and turmoil in Syria and crossed alone into Europe to find safety. Tarek has personally experienced what it feels like to not understand anything people are saying and to feel completely alone and abandoned. When he escaped Syria, Tarek only spoke Arabic. On his way to Belgium, he encountered many people, some friendly, others less so including some who tried helping him. He could not understand them and, so, he did not trust them. He could only rely on those snippets of information from others in the same situation as him, or older persons who could potentially get him to his final destination. Looking back, Tarek realises how dangerous his situation was, and how often he was in a position of vulnerability.

When Tarek was invited to give his advice, he was sceptical at first. It was first time he was being asked to help build something that could help others just like him.

The priority therefore, was to convince this group of unaccompanied children that their opinions were very 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 the child migrant experience.

“When you’re on the road, the only thing you think of is food and shelter,” emphasised Tarek. The second most important thing was contacting family. Therefore, finding out how to get a phone or buy a sim card and credit was their next priority. Tarek clarifies that “WiFi is mostly used to stay in touch with other migrants or once in the destination country” since their families often do not have access to the internet back home.

After that, information on what rights unaccompanied migrant children have in Europe would be most useful. This would include things like where and with which documents they could claim asylum. Another critical bit of information was knowing their rights to access services such as health and with regards to agencies such as migration authorities. Further down the hierarchy of needs was access to school and play but generally only once the child has arrived in their destination country.

Their opinions were vital: in certain cases it confirmed ideas, in others it helped better understand the priorities and to adapt the app accordingly. It was reassuring 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.

Tarek and the others described the frustration of not being able to understand the language in a place they found themselves in and how it eventually affected the kind of support they were able to find. What if the app could teach children how to pronounce words like bread, water, clothes, tired, cold, phone, want, need in the European languages, they said.

This was a game changer. Tarek shed light on a simple yet effective functionality of the app that could make a big difference for so many children.

Every day, we see initiatives, actions, laws and policies developed for children, without even talking to these children. Children are rarely asked for their opinion. Yet these efforts eventually have a direct impact on their present and their future lives, their safety and their happiness. Through the AMINA programme and especially with the Miniila app, Missing Children Europe wanted to listen to these children’s voices.  

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

* Personal details changed to protect privacy