UNHCR – IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF call on European states to stop child detention Donate

Geneva, July 5, 2022 – In an information letter published today, the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) describe in detail the practice of detaining children in European immigration services and suggest a number of alternatives and recommendations to help these countries putting an end to this practice.

Deprivation of liberty has a profound and negative impact on children’s health and well-being and can have a lasting negative impact on children’s cognitive development. Deprivation of liberty has been shown to aggravate mental illness, and detained children are susceptible to depression and anxiety as well as violence and abuse.

“Several countries in Europe have shown that alternatives to detention for children and families are safe, dignified and cost-effective. We strongly urge all European states to adhere to these approaches to protect the rights and welfare of refugee and migrant children.”said Pascale Moreau, Regional Director for Europe at the UNHCR.

In this joint assessment carried out by the IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF in 38 countries across Europe, the agencies found many particularly worrying examples of child imprisonment. The report also revealed that alternatives to detention, such as supported independent living, nursing homes and other child-friendly and child-centered models, are already in place in different European countries and offer solutions. .

“Displaced children are first and foremost children, regardless of their origin and the reasons why they have to leave their homes. Detention of children is never in their best interest, it 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 Refugee and Migrant Preparedness in Europe.

The recommendations of the three agencies include strengthening alternatives to detention for children and families, greater investment in reception facilities and national child protection systems, and capacity building for data collection and monitoring in the states as well as at EU level.

“In connection with the expulsion of people, the unity of the family and the best interests of the child go hand in hand. We urge governments to work to replace child and family detention measures with community-based programs, litigation and other alternatives that are based on people’s rights and have proven to be very effective. “concluded Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for the EEA, EU and NATO.

Read advocacy brief

Note to journalists:

This advocacy brief is the result of ongoing cooperation between the three agencies and has led to the publication of several joint publications on the situation of refugees, migrants and unaccompanied children in Europe. These include the Access to Education Brief published in September 2019 as well as semi-annual fact sheets presenting trends and data on accompanied, unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children in Europe.

About IOM

As the leading intergovernmental organization in the field of migration, with 174 member countries and a presence in over 100 countries, we work closely with our partners to promote safe, humane and orderly migration that benefits migrants and society.

For more information on IOM, please visit www.iom.int.


UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, provides protection to people forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. We save lives, protect rights and help build a better future.

For more information on UNHCR’s work in Europe, visit www.unhcr.org/europe.


UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of every child through everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate this commitment into concrete action, with a particular focus on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, for the benefit of all children, anywhere in the world.

For more information on UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/eca.

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