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BRUSSELS, 3 SEPTEMBER 2018 – Not all children begin the new school year with their classmates and teachers across Europe: some children remain detained for immigration-related purposes.

Photo: Newly built facility to detain children and families in Belgium. ©Esmeralda Borgo.

Immigration detention is harmful for the mental and physical health and development of children, even for very short periods. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that detaining children even up to 48 hours was unlawful.* Children detained with their parents bear witness to the mental distress of their parents, causing additional harm. Children in immigration detention centres cannot learn and thrive in a safe environment as they do in schools in the community.

Abdi was detained at an airport detention centre in Greece when he was 16 years old and recounts his experience:

We were living in a small [room] and they locked it. And you cannot do anything. You stand and sometimes you sit down but you are not able to sit the same way all the day. I have been there 17 days without taking bath, without changing clothes and they allow me to go to the toilet two times, in the morning and in the night. After that, I hated my life.” **

States publicise very limited data on how many children are detained for immigration purposes, on the length of their detention as well as continuing to limit or deny media and civil society access to immigration detention centres. Alternatives to detention such as placement and follow up in the community remain underexplored and underused.

PICUM Director, Michele LeVoy highlighted:

“Amidst the ongoing debate about migration, it is not acceptable that immigration detention remains such a grey zone, meaning that governments hardly collect or publish any data and limit or deny access to detention centres. There has been a justified outcry about detention of migrant children in the USA but in Europe it is kept out of the public eye. No child should ever be detained. There are alternatives to detention which allow families to stay together in the community while continuing to engage with immigration procedures.”

Civil society has started to monitor immigration detention of children worldwide through a scorecard*** which ranks states’ efforts towards ending the practice.

In the newly developed Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration governments commit to work to end detention of children including to explore and implement alternatives for children to stay with their families in the community.


Follow and share: #EndChildDetention #BackToSchool #FamiliesBelongTogether #ACageIsACage

Take Action! Click here to see what you can do as an organisation to help end immigration detention of children in your country.

Notes to editors:



Elisabeth Schmidt-Hieber, PICUM Communications Officer, +32 2 210 1780,

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