Among the people seeking sanctuary in Europe, the number of children has substantially increased (32 percent of European Union asylum applications in 2016). European countries seek to substantially reduce the number of migrants entering Europe and increase the number of people returned.
Interior ministers are increasingly influencing a wide range of government policy, and shaping the common European policy negotiated in Brussels. They have prioritised returning asylum seekers to their country of origin, and an increased use of immigration detention to manage this process. This is even becoming visible on the European landscape, due to detention centre building projects, especially on both the European and African sides of the Mediterranean.
However, detention is costly, ineffective and, more often than not, infringes human rights standards and refugee protection.
In our new report on child immigration detention in Europe, we make three consultations that we are now actively sharing with policy makers.
How many children are detained?
Having comprehensive and comparable data is essential for development of good policy, as well as for public debate and scrutiny. However, reliable statistics are not easily available. Our report brings new data into the public domain after considerable contact with European governments, but we are far from an accurate picture of the number of children being held in detention. How can it be right that European governments cannot say how many people are in their care?
Europe pushes back against growing global consensus against child detention
There is an emerging gap between, on the one hand, a growing international consensus encouraging the end of child immigration detention and the need for alternatives, and, on the other, EU law and national legislators. EU law puts some limitations on detention of child migrants, but does not prohibit it. And, while laws and policies are drafted in order to ensure that detention remains an exceptional measure for children, reports from civil society organisations suggests that the reality is otherwise.
Realistic alternatives exist
Many governments in Europe have shown they can process child asylum seekers without subjecting them to detention. Ireland even forbids it completely. However, too few are offered alternatives, and not all ‘alternatives’ are exactly what they seem. Because there is no legal definition, it is not understood in the same way by everyone. This leads to situations where lighter forms of detention are considered as alternatives when they do not meet the level of protection and care a child should and has the right to receive.
Our report points in particular to the Child Sensitive Community and Assessment Placement Model developed by the International Detention Coalition which could serve as a useful guide for policy-makers to ensure protection and care for children.
Detention is never in the best interests of a child
The detrimental impact of child immigration detention on health and well-being has led to a growing international consensus that the practice should end. European countries need to catch-up, and cooperate with one another to prioritise children’s inherent dignity and fundamental rights above immigration enforcement.
This is not beyond a wealthy continent like Europe, if we can rise above the politics of fear. Practical steps will include provision of multi-culturally trained staff as well as appropriate healthcare, psychological and educational services. A child is a child and should be treated as such whenever they come from.
To read the report click here.