IN A BRIEFING PAPER published on 5 July, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and IOM, the International Organisation for Migration, detail the practice of child immigration detention across countries in Europe, and offer a range of alternatives and recommendations to help countries in ending child detention.

Detention 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 and children held in detention are at risk of suffering depression and anxiety as well as violence and abuse.

“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-centred models are already in place in various European countries and offer viable and cost-efficient solutions for host States.

“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, 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.

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.

“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 programmes, case management and other rights-based alternatives, which have proven highly effective,” said Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for the EEA, EU and NATO.

* Read Safety and dignity for refugee and migrant children: Recommendations for alternatives to detention and appropriate care arrangements in Europe here.

* Source: UNHCR, the Refugee Agency