Seeking an end to the detention of asylum-seeking children | The Center for Victims of Torture

Seeking an end to the detention of asylum-seeking children

Thursday, November 20, 2014

November 20, 2014, marks the 25th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States has not yet ratified the Convention. In September, CVT joined other U.S. organizations in sending a letter to President Obama urging him to send the Convention to the U.S. Senate for ratification this year.

On the Convention’s 25th anniversary, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for the end of immigration detention of children. As part of its Beyond Detention, a global strategy designed to assist countries to move away from the detention of asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless people worldwide, UNHCR has made the detention of asylum-seeking children a priority.

"Children who arrive in another country in search of international protection are extremely vulnerable and have specific needs. We should treat them first and foremost as children, not as illegal aliens", said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. Even if they are detained together with their families, "this detention has a devastating effect on the physical, emotional and psychological development of these children," he said.

According to UNHCR, the practice of detaining asylum seekers and refugees has become routine in several countries. Beyond Detention includes three key parts: a call for an end to the detention of children; ensure that alternatives to detention are available in law and that they are implemented, and ensure that conditions of detentions when unavoidable fully meet international human rights standards.

From June 2014 to June 2019, UNHCR will work with government and others to deal with issues surrounding detention policies and practices. To implement Beyond Detention, UNHCR sees “… the development of national action plans, which will include awareness-raising, capacity-building, strengthening partnerships, information sharing, data collection and reporting, research and monitoring.”

In November 2013, CVT and the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC) issued a report, Tortured & Detained: Survivor Stories of U.S. Immigration Detention, which estimates the U.S. government, from October 2010 to February 2013, detained approximately 6,000 survivors of torture as they were seeking asylum protection. 

“As a general matter, survivors of torture should not be detained but, when they are, they should be treated with dignity, have access to basic information and legal counsel, and be released—safely and with adequate supports—as quickly as possible,” says Annie Sovcik, CVT’s Director of the Washington Office.

The report found that, for survivors whose torture may have occurred while in a confinement setting, the immigration detention experience is often retraumatizing and may lead survivors to relive their torture and suffer further psychological damage. Moreover, the indefinite nature of immigration detention may trigger a profound sense of powerlessness and loss of control, contributing to additional severe, chronic emotional distress.

To illustrate the personal and psychological impact of the detention experience, CVT and TASSC conducted interviews with asylum seekers and torture survivors who have been held in immigration detention facilities in the United States. Their profiles contained in the report are firsthand accounts of what asylum seekers and torture survivors are seeing, thinking, feeling, and enduring as they arrive in the United States and are arrested, shackled, and confined.



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