Migration – Child Detention
Statement by the United Nations Network on Migration
Child Immigration Detention is Not Only Wrong, It Is Ineffective
Today, the United Nations Network on Migration strongly reiterates its position that child immigration detention must be ended in every region of the world. Detention of children for immigration purposes – whether they are traveling alone or with their families – has been recognized as a child rights violation and can be highly damaging to their physical and psychological health and wellbeing. Detention of children based on their migratory status is thus never in their best interests. Community-based programmes, case management and other human rights-based alternatives have proven highly effective and all governments should work to replace immigration detention for children and families with appropriate reception and care arrangements.
Studies consistently show that detention and family separation are traumatic experiences that have a profound negative impact on children’s health and long-term cognitive and physical development. This harm can occur even when the detention is of short duration, regardless of the conditions in which children are held, and even when children are detained with their families. Children in detention are at risk of suffering depression, anxiety, and psychosomatic problems such as insomnia and nightmares. Recent reports from around the world consistently and repeatedly illustrate how damaging detention is for children. The Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Migrant Workers also issued authoritative guidance in 2017 affirming that “children should never be detained for reasons related to their or their parents’ migration status and States should expeditiously and completely cease or eradicate the immigration detention of children”.
Many governments that are implementing appropriate reception and care arrangements as alternatives to detention for children and families have found them to be more cost-effective and to result in low rates of absconding and high rates of compliance with status determination processes, including removal orders. Keeping families together over the course of immigration proceedings does not necessitate detention. This is a false choice. Detention is expensive and burdensome to administer, and there is no evidence that it deters individuals from migrating or claiming asylum.
This is an important moment to recall the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, where Member States committed to “protect and respect the rights and best interests of the child at all times, regardless of migration status, by ensuring availability and accessibility of a viable range of alternatives to detention in noncustodial contexts, favouring community-based care arrangements that ensure access to education and healthcare and respect their right to family life and family unity, and by working to end the practice of child detention in the context of international migration.” In the context of asylum, the same commitment is made in the Global Compact on Refugees.
The United Nations organizations that make up the Network are supporting governments in all regions to tackle these issues in a humane way, in accordance with international human rights and labour standards, to put in place viable non-custodial and community-based alternatives to immigration detention that are in line with international law, to keep families together, and to ensure that the best interests of every child always take precedence in immigration and asylum proceedings.