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Campaign to prevent immigration detention of children

Last week, the International Detention Coalition, supported by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, launched an international campaign to abolish the placement of foreign children in guarded facilities. The IDC launched its policy document on a new model of immigration detention, which protects the rights and liberties of children of asylum seekers and irregular migrants.

Currently, there are six guarded immigration detention centres in Poland: Białystok, Biała Podlaska, Krosno Odrzańskie and Lesznowola. The facilities host both minors who have come to Poland with their parents and those who do not have a legal guardian. The centres, surrounded by three-meters-high link fences, are guarded by Border Guard officers around the clock. The children placed in the guarded centres do not go to school. They attend limited-curriculum courses held on the premises.

Minors placed at detention centres are exposed to unnecessary and unjustified suffering. Moreover, even a short-term detention may cause irreversible damage to the child’s mental state and lead to psychological and physiological disorders.

In many countries, including EU member states, there is a tendency to limit detention of migrant children. This applies not only to unaccompanied minors but also families with children.

‘In Hungary, a country with a migration policy profile similar to that of Poland, unaccompanied minors are not subject to any detention whatsoever’, says Ewa Ostaszewska-Żuk, a lawyer of the Programme of Legal Assistance for Refugees and Migrants, realised by the HFHR. ‘As regards families with children, alternative measures are first considered. Should they prove to be ineffective in a given case, a child can be placed in detention but for a maximum period of 30 days’, adds Ms Ostaszewska-Żuk.

In the months to come, the HFHR will monitor the guarded centres. The Foundation will also act to create a coalition of NGOs that will advocate for the legal prohibition of placement of children in guarded facilities.

The European Court of Human Rights has decided many cases of minor detention. The ECtHR case-law emphasises that in such cases detained and estranged children are especially vulnerable. The Court found that child detention violates both Article 5 (the right to freedom and personal security) and Article 3 (the freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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