Refugees and migrants protest at the Moria detention centre on the Greek island of Lesbos Refugees and migrants protest at the Moria detention centre on the Greek island of Lesbos 

Holy See: End detention of migrant and refugee children

Catholic groups at the U.N. in New York call for alternatives to locking up unaccompanied minors

The human rights of migrant and refugee children were under the spotlight at the United Nations on Wednesday at an event hosted by the Holy See’s permanent mission to the world body. The event, entitled “Ending the Detention of Migrant and Refugee Children” was jointly organised by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), the Center for Migration Studies, Caritas Internationalis and the U.S. bishops’ department of migration and refugee services.

In his words of welcome, the Vatican’s representative to the UN, Archbishop Bernardito Auza noted that the international community has committed itself to work towards ending the practice of detaining refugee and migrant children.

Detention harms children's development

He said detention of minors is happening, despite “solid evidence of how harmful this practice is for children” and despite “a growing international consensus” that such detention is “never in their best interests”, nor in the interests of states affected by the phenomenon of migration.

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Another key speaker at the event was Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, Under-Secretary of the Vatican department dealing with migrants and refugees. He emphasised that children facing humanitarian emergencies should be given more, not less, protection of their rights and dignity.

Avoid polarising confrontation

At the Global Compact negotiations, which are taking place in New York this week, Fr Michael said delegates will find the best interests of children pitted against national security, or undermined by political expediency, but he urged negotiators to avoid “polarising confrontation”. While he noted that the best interests of a child may have different meanings in different cultures, he insisted that detention is never a solution, so acceptable alternatives must therefore be found.

Reinforcing that view was the Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission, Mgr. Robert Vitillo, who gave specific examples of best practice provided by states, civil society and faith based organisations.

Support family reunification

He cited a 2017 law enacted by the Italian government in response to some 26.000 unaccompanied minors who arrived in the country the previous year. He said the law, which provides professional and practical assistance to support migrant children and their families, shows compassion and should serve as a model for other European countries.

Mgr. Robert also cited Caritas International in Belgium which works with partners in 200 countries to reunite children with their families, providing the necessary legal, psychological and administrative support. He noted that proper identification, registration, care arrangements and discussions with the children themselves are important conditions to ensure the dignity and wellbeing of these unaccompanied minors.

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21 February 2018, 14:32