As Europe struggles to agree upon fair and sustainable ways to process the unprecedented movement of asylum seekers and migrants into the continent, disturbing reports continue to emerge about the mistreatment, detention and exploitation of children seeking asylum in EU countries.

UNICEF has released an advocacy brief on the migrant and refugee crisis in Europe entitled “A home away from home for refugee and migrant children

It calls for the dignified living conditions and safety of all children in Europe stating:

“A child is first and foremost a child and that all children—regardless of migration status—are entitled to the full set of rights as recognised in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

UNICEF outlined that at a minimum, these conditions should include:

  1. Alternatives to immigration detention for all children that respect the right to liberty and family life.
  2. Adequate accommodation and access to basic services in the community for all children and their families
  3. Family-based solutions for unaccompanied and separated children


UNICEF reported that over 27 000 children are trapped and detained in Greece’s refugee camps and reception centres, with many of them unaccompanied. Human Rights Watch uncovered that Greek authorities were regularly detaining asylum-seeking and other migrant children traveling on their own in small, crowded and unsanitary police station cells, as they waited for space in shelter facilities or are held in the notorious child detention centre, Amygdaleza. Other disturbing accounts of violence and sexual abuse perpetrated against these vulnerable children have surfaced, revealing the great risk they currently face.


“It’s shocking that in this day and age so many vulnerable [asylum seeking] children are being subjected to this kind of violence, manipulation and exploitation.”

Tanya Steele, Save the Children’s interim CEO


The home away from home advocacy brief provides evidence of the damaging impact detention has on children, including high rates of suicide, self-harm and developmental problems. UNICEF called upon States to “expeditiously and completely cease the detention of children on the basis of the child’s, his/her parents’ or guardians’ immigration status.”

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These findings are also included in UNICEF’s global report “Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children” which presents new data that paint a sad and sobering global picture of the lives and situations of millions of children and families affected by violent conflict and other crises that make it seem safer to risk everything on a perilous journey than to remain at home. The report calls for urgent – and sustained – action for all child refugees and migrants, with a focus on promoting alternatives to immigration detention.


This position is further supported is by the UN Secretary General who called for States’ commitment to “never detain children for purposes on immigration control” and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture who concluded that “immigration detention of children exceeds the requirement of necessity, becomes grossly disproportionate and may even constitute cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of migrant children.”


The IDC is in full support of UNICEF’s call to end the detention of children and the need for alternative approaches to immigration that respect each person’s fundamental right to liberty, security, and human dignity. You can read more about IDC’s research into alternatives for preventing unnecessary immigration detention here.


More info:

Global UNICEF Report on Migrant and Refugee Crisis

Europe Advocacy Brief on Refugee and Migrant Child Crisis

Core position of the Inter-agency working group to end child detention (IAWG)

Global Campaign to end child detention