An important week for undocumented children’s rights

By Barbara Stricker (PICUM Project Assistant),
and Lilana Keith (PICUM Project Officer).

The week of 3-7 October 2011 saw much needed debate on improving access to basic social rights for children in an irregular migration situation at both European and national levels, with a hearing at the Council of Europe and workshop in the UK both dedicated to the issues.

Council of Europe hearing and report on undocumented children

At European level, the Council of Europe picked up the call to ensure the rights of undocumented children through voting on a report during the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) plenary session on 7 October 2011.

During a PACE hearing organised in advance of the plenary discussion, on 4 October 2011, examples and testimonies were given by PICUM members and partners on health care, housing, detention and education.

The London-based NGO Praxis illustrated clearly how fear of accessing health care services can have tragic consequences, with the case of a couple who delayed taking their seriously ill baby to hospital, despite it being an emergency, due to fear of detection. The baby died and while it cannot be known if the baby would have survived if medical care had been received immediately, the delay could have been an aggravating factor.

Defence for Children Netherlands reported on the situation regarding access to housing in the Netherlands. Two years after a successful complaint to the Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe, the situation remains problematic. The decision concerned the eviction of undocumented families with children from Dutch reception centres on being refused asylum. Those that were evicted before the decision are still living on the streets, and those that have not been evicted have subsequently spent the last two years in inappropriate conditions, in removal centres designed for temporary stay.

RESF, an initiative of teachers and parents of undocumented school children in France, highlighted the practice used by immigration authorities whereby they use children’s school attendance to detect their undocumented parents. RESF criticized the traumatising impact of such practices on the children themselves as well as on other students and the school environment.

FROG, an organisation campaigning for migrants’ rights in Poland, underlined how the experience of detention can lead to trauma and anxiety in children and prevents them from accessing their other basic rights, such as education and healthcare, which are very limited in detention. Therefore, FROG called for a ban of this deprivation of liberty for children.

Several PICUM members and partners also took the opportunity to discuss these themes in bilateral meetings with their respective national members of the PACE Sub-Committees on Migration and Children. At the same time, civil society input, working methods and themes were elaborated in meetings with Council of Europe Secretariats such as the Human Rights Commissioner’s Office, the Secretariat of the European Social Charter, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance – ECRI, the Migration Co-ordinator, the Roma Co-ordinator and Congress.

UK Workshop “Building Strategies to Protect Children in an Irregular Migration Situation”

On 6 October 2011, it was time to take up the debate at national level and discuss the situationof undocumented children and their families in the UK, together with local authority representatives, NGOs, health care professionals, academics and many others. The workshop was organised with Praxis as part of the PICUM project “Building Strategies to Improve the Protection of Undocumented Children in Europe”, which was launched in March 2011.

Workshop participants presented initiatives such as Doctors of the World’s “Project London”, which works closely with GP practices to encourage them to register undocumented patients, and provides urgent medical care in the meantime.

Local authority Tower Hamlets showed commitment to continue their work with PICUM project partner and member Praxis. They have set up a consultative forum, which gives a voice to migrants living in this particularly diverse London Borough. Salusbury Worldis working in schools to provide educational and social support for both migrant children and their parents. COMPAS research at the University of Oxford is creating a strong evidence base, which will prove useful for campaigning and lobbying on undocumented children’s rights.

The core message which was echoed by all participants in both events was that children in an irregular migration situation should be treated as children first and foremost. The immigration status of children or their parents should not prevent their access to their basic social rights. This means a definite and clear de-linking of service provision and immigration control.

See pictures of both events here and spread the word…

Next on the agenda is the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) conferenceon the rights and dignity of irregular migrants on 21-22 November 2011 in Warsaw. Undocumented children’s rights will be specifically addressed within a working group in the afternoon. The event will be livestreamed.

Together with the Polish Migration Forum and the Fundacja Rozwoju Oprócz Granic the next project workshop is going to be held in Poland/Warsaw on 9 December 2011. It will look at the laws and policies relating to rights to healthcare, education and housing of children in an irregular migration situation in Poland and the situation in practice.

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