IBA and IBAHRI support Greece ending custodial detention of unaccompanied migrant children

Thursday 26 November 2020

The International Bar Association (IBA) and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) welcome the decision of the Greek government to end the longstanding practice of detaining unaccompanied migrant children in jail cells. The IBA and IBAHRI have been gravely concerned about the welfare of unaccompanied children detained by Greek authorities for several weeks, sometimes months, in small, overcrowded and unsanitary police station cells across the country, often with unrelated adults.

IBA President, Horacio Bernardes Neto, commented: ‘The increasing number of migrant children arriving in the European Union every year under dire conditions has been an issue I have highlighted during my presidency of the IBA. The IBA Presidential Task Force on the Refugee Crisis Initiative released a report detailing the difficulties faced by refugee and migrant unaccompanied children. Detaining children in jail cells is a punishment, especially after being forced to flee often life-threatening circumstances. The IBA is pleased to hear that the Greek government is to put an end to this unlawful practice and hopes that this decision will be enforced as a matter of urgency.’

The number of child migrants around the world has been increasing in recent years, and accounts for between 40 to 50 per cent of the world’s refugee population each year. While the decision to end detention of unaccompanied minor children is welcome, there is an urgent need to repeal the existing legal provisions that allow children to be detained in ‘protective custody.’ The IBA and IBAHRI call on the Greek government to immediately undertake measures to increase shelter capacity, set up alternatives to detention and establish a functional and comprehensive foster family system. In order to fulfil these objectives, we also call on the European Commission to provide financial support to the Greek government.  

IBAHRI Co-Chairthe Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented: ‘Every state must recognise its duty to protect migrant children, upholding their basic human rights and best interests in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which provides in Article 37(b) that “[n]o child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”’

Mr Kirby added: ‘Unfortunately, automatic detention of unaccompanied, and also accompanied migrant children, is practised in many countries. We remind those countries that this is contrary to international law. They should cease such practices immediately and bring themselves into compliance with the CRC. We call on all states globally to end the detention of migrant children. The most effective way of doing so would be to take immediate measures in arranging for alternative noncustodial options to detention and prioritising family reunifications.’

Following the establishment of the IBA Presidential Task Force in April 2020, Helene Santos, IBAHRI Geneva Consultant, presented a report, on behalf of the IBAHRI, to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants calling for inter alia, the immediate prohibition of detention of migrant children and for setting up noncustodial alternatives to detention. The report, submitted to the UN General Assembly in September 2020, highlighted the international human rights law principles underpinning why the Greek authorities must abolish the practice of detaining children and establish a rehabilitative and restorative juvenile justice system, with particular emphasis on access to lawyers for children.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented: ‘The violation of the CRC by the Greek government through the practice of detaining migrant children in deplorable conditions has been a major cause for concern for many years. Although this decision by the Greek government is long overdue, it represents a step in the right direction towards juvenile justice and a more functional rehabilitation process of unaccompanied migrant children in the EU. We now call on the Greek authorities to immediately repeal earlier policies and arrange for alternative options for accommodating all migrant children so that their rights and best interests are protected.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. Related material:
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

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