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Irregular immigrant children should not be detained - IDC
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
The International Detention Coalition (IDC) prepared a policy document highlighting the need for alternative approaches to managing the irregular migration of children.
The document conveys the stories of 70 children who have been in immigration detention. Children were interviewed for the IDC research in Malta, Greece, Hungary, Turkey, the US, El Salvador, Mexico, Israel, Egypt, Malaysia and Australia. The children had travelled from Afghanistan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Honduras, Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala.
As part of the research, the experiences of 16 parents of children who had been detained were also documented. It resulted that the detention of children is a global practice even though it is difficult to quantify.
Children themselves speak of the hardship they endure in immigration detention, as highlighted in the document. IDC says that the goal of immigration control can be better achieved and with fewer detrimental effects by seeking not to detain children.
This policy paper has its genesis in the growing concern on the part of IDC members about the detention of immigrant children. The IDC is an international non-governmental organisation with 258 members in 50 countries. Members provide legal, social, medical and other services, carry out research and reporting, and undertake advocacy and policy work on behalf of refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers. In 2008, the IDC conducted a survey of its members, which indicated that the detention of children was a key area in which to work.
Consequently, the organisation developed a research project to investigate the experiences of children in immigration detention. The research presented forms the evidence base for an international campaign to end the detention of children for immigration purposes around the world.
Children leave their homelands for a variety of reasons. Some flee because their fundamental human rights are threatened. Some leave in search of a better life. Some children leave their homes with their families; others travel alone. Some are separated from their families along the way. Some are trafficked for sexual or other forms of exploitation. All children who travel without official approval or documentation, regardless of whether they are refugees, asylum seekers or irregular migrants, are at risk of being detained.
States detain children who are refugees, asylum seekers, and irregular migrants for a number of reasons, including health and security screening, to check their identities and to facilitate their removal from the particular territory.
IDC says there are more effective and humane approaches than detention that can be used to achieve these policy goals. Sometimes states detain children because it is more convenient to detain them than to release them into the community. In other cases, states use detention to deter other refugees, asylum seekers and irregular migrants from seeking to make the journey. Such justifications for detaining children are unacceptable.
IDC states that the detention of children is a denial of their fundamental right to liberty. It says that regardless of the conditions in which they are kept, detention has a profound and negative impact on children. It undermines their psychological and physical health and compromises their development.
Children are at risk of suffering depression and anxiety, as well as symptoms such as insomnia, nightmares and bed-wetting. Feelings of hopelessness and frustration can be manifested as acts of violence against the self or others. Further, detention erodes the functioning of families, meaning that children can lose the support and protection of their parents, or take on roles beyond their level of maturity. The detention environment can itself place children’s physical and psychological integrity at risk.
The policy document concludes with a step-by-step guide on how to avoid detaining children. This involves recognising three core principles: undocumented child migrants are, first and foremost, children; the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in any action taken in relation to the child and the child’s family; and the liberty of the child is a fundamental human right.
The IDC said that at the same time as detention of children has been increasing, there has also been a move, in some countries and regions, away from detaining children. Some governments are seeking innovative ways in which to limit or prevent refugee, asylum seeker and irregular migrant children from being detained.
The policy document details some of these good practice examples. It does so while outlining a model for states to use to prevent child detention. The model, called the Child-Sensitive Community Assessment and Placement Model, involves five steps: prevention; assessment and referral; management and processing; reviewing and safeguarding; and case resolution.
The model presents states with concrete means to manage immigration and their borders but also to implement legal, policy and political measures to prevent the detention of children.
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