IOM, UNHCR, and UNICEF have urged EU states to put an end to the detention of migrant and refugee children, and have provided new recommendations for alternatives to the practice.
In an advocacy brief published on July 5, UN agencies, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, the UN children's agency UNICEF and the UN Migration agency IOM called on European states to stop detaining migrant and refugee minors, detailing this practice in the countries they were addressing and offering a range of alternatives and recommendations.
"Detaining children has a profound and negative impact on child health and well-being and can have a long-lasting negative impact on children's cognitive development. Placement in detention is known to exacerbate psychological distress, in particular for children who have faced violence before, during or after their journeys to Europe," the brief noted.
Detention of minors in 38 states 'raises concern'
"Several countries in Europe have demonstrated that alternatives to detention for children and families can be safe, dignified and cost-effective - we urge all European States to adopt these approaches to protect the rights and well-being of refugee and migrant children," said Pascale Moreau, UNHCR's Regional Director for Europe.
In the joint review conducted by IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF in 38 countries across the European region, the agencies found many worrying examples of child detention. It also found that alternatives to detention such as supported independent living, foster and family-based care, and other child-friendly and child-centered models are already in place in various European countries and offer viable and cost-efficient solutions for host states, the brief stated.
"Children on the move are first and foremost children, regardless of where they are from and why they left their homes. Detention of children is never in their best interests, it is a violation of their rights, and must be avoided at all costs," said Afshan Khan, UNICEF's Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe.
Recommendations from the agencies
The recommendations set forth by the three agencies include expanding alternatives to detention for children and families, investing in reception conditions and national child protection systems and enhancing national data collection and monitoring capacities within states as well as the European Union, a press release issued online stated.
"Family unity and the best interests of the child go hand in hand in the context of persons on the move. We encourage governments to work to replace immigration detention for children and families with community-based programs, case management and other rights-based alternatives, which have proven highly effective," said Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for the EEA, EU and NATO.