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Publication date:22 June 2017

European legal and policy framework on immigration detention of children

Up to one third of migrants arriving in the European Union since the summer of 2015 have been children. The current emphasis on speedier asylum processing and making returns more effective may trigger increased use of immigration detention, possibly also affecting children. The detention of children implicates various fundamental rights and will only be in line with EU law if limited to exceptional cases. This report aims to support practitioners in implementing relevant polices in line with applicable law by outlining available safeguards against unlawful and arbitrary detention and highlighting promising practices.


FRA is conducting desk research on immigration detention of children – both unaccompanied and children with their parents or guardian. The research covers children in asylum or in immigration/return procedures and covers all EU Member States. It focuses on detention conditions, covering such issues as access to health and education, monitoring of detention facilities and ensuring children’s wellbeing. The research is carried out under the project "Inter-agency cooperation and other activities in the areas of borders, immigration and asylum" included in FRA’s Annual Work Programme.


International law allows detention of children only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. In regard to immigration detention in particular, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said that “detention cannot be justified solely on the basis of the child being unaccompanied or separated, or on their migratory or residence status, or lack thereof”. EU law encourages Member States to use alternatives to detention for children and families with children, taking into account the best interests of the child. The EU acquis in the field of asylum and return sets specific standards concerning detention of children, including detention conditions. In practice, however, children, whether accompanied or not, may be detained to prevent unauthorised entry or to facilitate their removal, sometimes in facilities that are not equipped to cater for their needs.

FRA’s research intends to provide guidance to EU institutions and Member States on the implementation of child protection safeguards relating to immigration detention of children. It also intends to support the Council of Europe work on developing European immigration rules on detention.


FRA research will complement existing studies and will update parts of the 2010 FRA report on ’Detention of third-country nationals in return procedures’. FRA’s multidisciplinary research network, FRANET, will collect data in the 28 EU Member States on national laws and practices regarding immigration detention of unaccompanied children and children with families/guardians. It will cover detention practices, including the implementation of specific standards provided in the EU asylum acquis and the use of alternatives to detention for children. The data collection will be conducted through desk research using available secondary sources, as well as information obtained from public authorities and other relevant actors.