Final conference of the Parliamentary Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children

Strasbourg , 

As delivered


Madame President, General Rapporteur on the Parliamentary Campaign, Ambassador of Switzerland, distinguished speakers in this panel, ladies and gentlemen,

I begin by congratulating the Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Migration, and everyone who has assisted it, for the conduct of this Campaign.

Four years is a long time to sustain this kind of effort.

That so many have done so – both in this room and beyond – is testament to their heart-felt commitment.

Certainly, the call to end the immigration detention of children has a strong moral imperative, and is firmly rooted in the Council of Europe’s principles:

That detention should be the last resort in the context of migration;

That children should never be detained for these purposes;

And that to do so on the basis of their parents’ immigration status is against the interest of the child and is a direct violation of their rights.

After all, these children have committed no crime.

To deprive them of their freedom, and to detain them in facilities that we have seen for ourselves often look and feel like prisons – well, it is little wonder that this can cause trauma to children, killing their sense of hope, safety and trust.

So in the context of increased migration to Europe in recent years, your campaign has been just, timely and effective.

Facilitating studies and visits, producing parliamentary guides, reaching out to politicians, ombudsmen, and children’s rights practitioners:

It is by these means that you have shared the evidence, knowledge and best practice that lead to the increased use of alternatives to child detention.

Since 2015, the Council of Europe has taken a series of measures that complement and reinforce this proactive approach.

In 2016, our Secretary General wrote to heads of governments asking them to make every effort to end the practice of placing migrant children in detention.

That same year we launched our Strategy for the Rights of the Child, which champions the rights of migrant children as one of the five priority areas and will continue for another two years.

And in 2017 our Action Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe was adopted with the aim of avoiding immigration detention in order to protect children from various forms of violence.

Our intergovernmental work has also dovetailed with the priorities of the PACE campaign.

Specifically, our ad hoc Committee on the Rights of the Child has developed guidelines on effective guardianship for unaccompanied or separated children in migration.

And our Steering Committee for Human Rights has done invaluable research on the legal and practical elements of alternatives to migrant detention and raised awareness between member states of the effective alternatives that some of them had already put in place.

This intergovernmental work has followed the PACE campaign’s focus on child participation: harnessing the views and experiences of migrant children themselves as we move forward in policy-making.

More broadly, it has allowed the Council of Europe to amplify the work done by the campaign – to reach the same kind of audience, with the same important and consistent message.

Ladies and gentlemen, this campaign has raised decision-makers’ awareness about the dangers and costs attached to child migrant detention.

It has generated the momentum required to move from the discussion of alternatives to their implementation on the ground.

And it is a shining example of the way in which the Parliamentary Assembly and our intergovernmental committees can work in tandem and to greater effect.

Although the flow of migrants has decreased since the campaign was launched four years ago, many countries still face trouble adapting to the challenges posed by those who did arrive, and those who continue to do so.

No-one tries to do the wrong thing.

But the pride that you can take in your work is that you have helped national authorities and others to improve their ways, and to do the right thing – by choice.

Things are far from perfect, and we must continue to help migrant children and others in a whole manner of ways.

But we know that we can continue to make a difference, and we will.

That is the legacy of the PACE Campaign.