Europe continues to be faced with unprecedented numbers of migrants seeking protection. Migrant children are the most vulnerable group, whether they are arriving with their families or as unaccompanied minors. A worrying number of them end up in administrative detention as a result of existing immigration laws and policies. In detention facilities they are at high risk of abuse and neglect. Moreover, minors that are unaccompanied or separated from their parents or guardians are often unable to advocate for their fundamental human rights.
As shown in a number of relevant studies and documents, irrespective of the conditions, detention can lead to a number of negative health consequences to children. Even if detained for short periods, the children's psychological and physical well-being can be undermined and their cognitive development compromised.
There is a great need to raise awareness on the problem of immigration detention of children in Council of Europe member States. As Doris Fiala recalled, member States have the "obligation to expeditiously and completely cease this serious violation of children rights in compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child".
Measures need to be taken at national level to ensure that all migrant children can enjoy their full rights. This entails implementing relevant laws and adopting alternatives to immigration detention that fulfil the best interests of children.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines that the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children (Art. 3) and that "no child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily" (Art. 37).
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on states to "expeditiously and completely cease the detention of children on the basis of their immigration status" and "adopt alternatives to detention that fulfil the best interests of the child" (para 78 and 79).
The EU Reception Conditions Directive obliges member States to not detain a person solely because he or she is seeking international protection (Art 8.1). Detention of minors is allowed only as a last resort and when less coercive alternative measures cannot be applied effectively. The Directive obliges member States to lay down alternatives to detention in national law (Art. 8.4). The minor's best interests need to be a primary consideration (Art.23).
The Parliamentary Assembly has recalled, in its Resolution 2020 that unaccompanied children should never be detained and that the detention of children on the basis of their or their parents' immigration status is contrary to the best interests of the child and constitutes a child rights violation. PACE has called on the member States to: introduce legislation prohibiting the detention of children for immigration reasons and ensure its full implementation in practice. Governments should adopt alternatives that meet the best interests of the child and allow children to remain with their family members and/or guardians in non-custodial, community-based contexts while their immigration status is being resolved.
The European Court of Human Rights has found in its rulings that: "the child's extreme vulnerability is the decisive factor and takes precedence over considerations relating to the status of illegal immigrant" (Art. 91 of the case of Popov v. France and Art. 55 of the case of Mubilanzila Mayeka and Kaniki Mitunga v. Belgium).
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe has stated that it is "unacceptable" that any refugee and migrant children who arrive on the continent unaccompanied by their parents are held in detention centres. He called on European countries to ensure such children can be housed in special facilities and quickly reunited with their families. [Video, Article]. The Secretary General sent a letter in March 2016 to member States urging them to make every effort to end the placement of children in immigration detention facilities, together with a document proposing a set of priority measures. [Press release]
In June 2018, Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ (Switzerland, SOC) was appointed General rapporteur on the Campaign by the PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.
His role is to contribute to raising awareness on this problem and the need to adopt alternatives to detention that fulfill the best interests of the child.
Video interview from October 2017
The former rapporteur was Ms Doris FIALA (Switzerland, ALDE).
Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
"Detaining migrant children for administrative purposes increases their suffering, and can have serious and irreversible consequences on their mental health and development. Detention is therefore never in the child's best interest. The Parliamentary Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children is advocating a definitive ban on the placement of children in detention facilities, and moving towards alternatives where their wellbeing and specific needs could be guaranteed. I therefore invite all parliamentarians to support this campaign, and to do their part in making sure that immigration detention of children will no longer be considered an acceptable option." Video
Mr Tomáš Bocek, former Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees
"We need to repeat again and again and again; immigration detention is never in the best interest of the child. Unfortunately, detention is widely used." Video
Ms Leeanne Torpey, Global Campaign Coordinator
"In Europe it is very difficult to have statistics on children in detention. It is estimated that there are 40,000 children who are detained each year." More
Join us in an international effort to combat detention of immigrant children and help put an end to this violation of their rights by signing the Global petition.
For further information, visit the Global campaign website.
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From the Council of Europe:
From International Detention Coalition:
« Donner la préférence aux alternatives efficaces plutôt qu'à la détention pour les mineurs dans le contexte des mesures administratives liées à la migration », 2019, Motion, Parlement suisse (French only)