By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2018 (IPS)
World leaders must commit to ending child migrant detention during United Nations negotiations next week, a human rights group said.
Leaders from around the world are due to convene to discuss the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), an intergovernmental agreement on managing international migration which is in its final stage of negotiations.
As images and stories of children trapped in detention centres in the United States continue to come out, Amnesty International (AI) has called on negotiation participants to end child detention. “Many world leaders have expressed their outrage at the Trump administration’s recent horrendous treatment of children whose parents have arrived in the USA irregularly. Now is the time to channel that outrage into concrete action.”
“The appalling scenes in the U.S. have illustrated why an international commitment to ending child migration detention is so desperately needed – these negotiations could not have come at a more crucial time,” said AI’s Senior Americas Advocate Perseo Quiroz.
“Many world leaders have expressed their outrage at the Trump administration’s recent horrendous treatment of children whose parents have arrived in the U.S. irregularly. Now is the time to channel that outrage into concrete action,” he added.
As a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, over 2,000 children have been separated from their parents and detained since May after crossing the country’s southern border.
Officials estimate that up to 10,000 children are held in poor conditions in detention centres in the U.S.
“At the U.N. next week there is a real opportunity for states to show they are serious about ending child migration detention for good by pushing for the strongest protections possible for all children, accompanied or otherwise,” Quiroz said.
The current draft of the GCM does mention the issue including a clause to “work to end the practice of child detention in the context of international migration” and to “use migration detention only as a last resort.”
However, AI believes the language is not strong enough as there is no circumstance in which migration-related detention of children is justified.
While U.S. president Donald Trump has signed an executive order reversing the family separation policy, he has replaced it with a policy of detaining entire families together.
This means that children, along with their parents, can be detained for a prolonged and indefinite period of time.
“Now is not the time to look away,” said Brian Root and Rachel Schmidt from Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“Family separation and detention policies are symptoms are a much larger global issue: how receiving countries treat migrants, who are often fleeing unstable and/or violent situations,” they added.
Recently, Oxfam found that children as young as 12 are physically abused, detained, and illegally returned to Italy by French border guards, contrary to French and European Union laws.
Over 4,000 child migrants have passed through the Italian border town of Ventimiglia between July 2017 and April 2018. The majority are fleeing persecution and conflict in countries such as Sudan, Eritrea, and Syria and are often trying to reach relatives or friends in other European countries.
Children have reported being detained overnight in French cells without food, water, or blankets and with no access to an official guardian.
In Australia, over 200 children are in asylum-seeker detention centres including on Nauru and are often detained for months, if not years.
“The Global Compact on Migration…offers some hope, but it will not work if many countries continue to see the issue purely in terms of border control,” HRW said.
“In addition, this compact will have little effect on an American president who seems to hold contempt for the idea of international cooperation,” they continued.
Last year, the U.S. withdrew from the U.N. Global Compact on Migration, just days before a migration conference in Mexico, citing that the document undermines the country’s sovereignty.
Though the GCM itself is also not legally binding, AI said that it is politically binding and establishes a basis for future discussions on migration.
“Recent events have shone a spotlight on the brutal realities of detaining children simply because their parents are on the move, and we hope this will compel other governments to take concrete steps to protect all children from this cruel treatment,” Quiroz said.
Starting on Jul. 9, leaders of the 193 U.N. member states will meet in New York to agree on the final text of the GCM.