Help end migrant detention of children

Moria hotspot, Lesvos, May 2016
Moria hotspot, Lesvos, May 2016
A third of migrants arriving to the EU are children. They may be detained in prison-like conditions and their mental health put at risk. Such practices may defy human rights law as a new report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) reveals. It examines existing practices and shows how measures such as alternative housing, restrictions of movement or stronger guardianship systems can avoid the need for detention.

The European legal and policy framework on immigration detention of children report points to the need to develop credible and effective systems to avoid detaining children in asylum and return proceedings. This includes alternative housing, counselling, coaching and managing cases involving children better.

It reveals that while migrant detention of children is not illegal, it should not be arbitrary and is only lawful in certain situations. Even then the conditions must suit the needs of children

These exceptions must be strictly respected. This includes setting maximum detention periods which should be as short as possible. At present detention can last as long as 18 months.

Protecting children from exploitation or preventing them from going missing should not be used as an excuse for detention. Instead better facilities, continual specialist support and stronger guardianship systems are needed. Training staff to know how to treat and inform children appropriately, and involve them are also important.

When detention cannot be avoided facilities should be child-friendly. Uniformed armed staff and barbed wire surrounding enclosures should be avoided. Together with adequate education and healthcare outside detention facilities, this would ensure children are treated with respect and dignity, minimising stress and trauma which can affect them in later life.

Each case should be assesessed individually taking the children’s best interests into account. Close consultation and liaison with child protection authorities would help ensure the needs of children are met. They could also provide effective oversight, and guard against abuse and rights violations while also maintaining accountability.

The report explains the main fundamental rights safeguards in EU and human rights law that prevent detention. While looking at what Member States are doing, it also gives examples of promising practices to help end or restrict detention.