New EU guidelines on child refugees are a positive step – now more are needed

On 12 April 2017, the EU Commission published new policy guidelines whose objective is to provide concrete actions to protect all migrant and refugee children arriving in Europe. The guidelines have been broadly welcomed, and rightly so, by child rights organisations as they aim to provide access to safe reception facilities, services like education and health care, and long-term solutions that are in the best interest of the child such as alternatives to detention. The fact that the Commission took such a step in that direction is important given the negative political climate surrounding forced migration. Furthermore, the situation has unfortunately put national systems and administrations under pressure and exposed gaps and shortcomings in the protection of children in migration. In 2015 and 2016, in Europe children made up 30 per cent of all asylum applications.

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne

(Photo: John Englart (CC))

While this is one positive step, the issue now is for the EU to transform their words into action and ensure these commitments become a reality for children in all Member States. One important issue is child detained in the context of migration. In its guidelines, the EU underlines that detention of children should be used exclusively in exceptional circumstances, where strictly necessary, only as a last resort, for the shortest time possible, and never in prison accommodation. The EU recognizes the negative consequence of detention on children but it is unfortunately still possible to detain them under EU law and. In practice, it appears that many children are detained as alternatives to detention are few and far between.

Locking up children and their families has a profound and negative impact on children’s health and well-being. Due to these averse consequences, the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA) is working to encourage European governments to end the detention of children. This means all children, whether unaccompanied or within families, regardless of their or their parent’s migration status. European governments should ensure that non-custodial, community-based alternatives are available and used. Detention is never in their best interests and constitutes a violation of the rights of the child.

In the coming months, QCEA will be working on a research project on the issue of child immigration detention in Europe. Through this research, we would lay out the legal framework at international and European level and try to get a clearer picture of the situation in different countries.

We hope to highlight the absence of information about children in immigration detention in Europe and find ways to drastically reduce it, notably through the development and implementation of alternatives. We also hope that this would feed into the wider discussion on immigration detention. The practice is not only detrimental but ineffective as there is no empirical evidence that it deters irregular migration or discourages persons from seeking asylum.

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