The IDC welcomes this update on UNHCR’s position on the detention of children in the context of immigration. As a global leader in ending the immigration detention of children and families, and in promoting alternatives to immigration detention, UNHCR has long played an important role in clarifying State obligations vis-à-vis asylum seeking and refugee children, and has been a close strategic and operational partner to the IDC.


This new Issue Brief, published in January 2017, builds upon the legal guidance provided by UNHCR’s 2012 Detention Guidelines (para. 51), and clarifies that children should never be detained for immigration related purposes, irrespective of their legal/migratory status or that of their parents, and that detention is never in their best interests. The Information Note further confirms that, in all cases, appropriate care arrangements and community-based alternatives need to be in place to ensure adequate reception of children and their families.


The rationale behind this clarification lies in the need to pair the policy in the 2012 Detention Guidelines with the evolution of the position of the UN Human Rights Mechanisms over the past few years, supported by a strong advocacy position from civil society organisations, in relation to the non-application of Art. 37(b) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the detention of children in the context of immigration and border controls.


The Issue Brief also re-confirms public statements made by both the former and current High Commissioners for Refugees. In 2014, at the 25th Anniversary commemoration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, then High Commissioner and current United Nations Secretary General, Mr. António Guterres, stated “the practice of putting children in immigration detention is in violation of the CRC in many respects and it should be stopped”.  Similarly, at the ninth annual High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges in 2016, the current High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, when addressing how to better protect children on the move, stated:


“Children on the move are first and foremost children, and should be treated as such. They need love, care and schooling. They should be able to express their views freely and be listened to. Detention centres are no place for a child – immigration detention of children must stop.”


The Issue Brief is now available on Refworld and on UNHCR’s Detention page:


To learn more about this new UNHCR Issue Brief, please contact Ariel Riva, Legal Officer, Protection Policy and Legal Advice, Division of International Protection ([email protected]).