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New European Union returns policies put children at risk

Joint press release by PICUM, Save the Children, IOM, UNICEF, OHCHR, End Immigration Detention of Children and the International Detention Coalition

The European Commission adopted a Recommendation and Renewed Action Plan on 2 March 2017 for EU member states to consider in their procedures to return men, women and children staying irregularly in the EU to their countries of origin or transit. It encourages member states to undertake swift returns, which limit basic safeguards and rights that should be guaranteed to all migrants, including in cases involving children.

PICUM, Save the Children, IOM, UNICEF, OHCHR, the End Immigration Detention of Children campaign and the International Detention Coalition have published a joint statement in response to these plans expressing concern that the Commission package on Return encourages member states to undertake ‘swift returns’ of people – including children – with reduced procedural safeguards and through the increased use of detention.

This approach would put children’s lives at risk and would be in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which every EU member state has ratified.

We welcome the reference in the document to best interests’ assessment in return decisions for unaccompanied children. It is essential for robust best interests procedures to be implemented before any child - including children with their families - is issued a return decision. This cannot be a tick box exercise. In considering whether return is in the best interests of the child, the child’s views should be duly considered.

Forced removals and detention are extremely harmful for children andfamilies. Children should never be detained for immigration purposes, even as a last resort.

Earlier this year, three unaccompanied Afghan children committed suicide in Sweden. Case workers said the children felt lonely and were unable to handle the anxiety of the process, nor the prospect of being deported to a place where they did not feel safe.

Returnee children and families are at risk of rejection by their families or local communities in their countries of origin, as well as human rights violations. They often face severe discrimination. They are vulnerable to exploitation, to being recruited by armed groups, or pushed into forced labour. Rather than address the harm to children already caused by the EU and member states return policies, the Commission document recommends measures that would increase it. It encourages fewer safeguards, quicker and automatic return decisions, more forced removals, and more detention.

Far from addressing the real migration challenges that exist across the EU, these proposals will only exacerbate the situation. Further, there is no evidence that forced removal dissuades people from migrating. Returning them to unsustainable situations increases the risk of further cycles of precarious and insecure migration.

Behind the policy decisions and targets to enforce return decisions are the lives of real children and families. The EU and its member states have long been leaders on children’s rights. We urge them to uphold their commitments to all children, regardless of migration or residence status.


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To read the full statement, click HERE.

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