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Children in detention in Thailand and around the world

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that the detention of children can only be used “as a measure of last resort” and “for the shortest appropriate period of time” and yet the children of migrant workers and asylum seekers are regularly held for long periods, sometimes for many years.

A new study conducted by the International Detention Coalition (IDC) has gathered testimonies from children held in immigration detention centres around the world (in 11 different countries). The organisation, an umbrella of more than 250 member groups, is now calling for an end to the practice.

The IDC estimates that hundreds of thousands of children belonging to refugee or migrant families are held every year worldwide. The duration of their detention can be lengthy, particularly in countries such as Thailand, which are not signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Under Thailand’s immigration law, refugees and asylum-seekers who cannot return home or settle in third countries have to live inside state detention camps, regardless of their age. This often means that children are separated from parents of the opposite sex and live in over-crowded and unhygienic facilities such as Bangkok’s International Detention Centre. Here, schooling is only offered to the children two days each week.

Speaking to IRIN, the coordinator of the IDC’s campaign to end immigration detention of children said that holding children in centres “even for a short time, has a very toxic effect”. Research studies (quoted in the IDC report) have shown even short periods can be detrimental to a child’s development, though the longer children are detained, the worse the impact on their physical and psychological health. Periods of detention can cause anxiety problems, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder in children.

In Thailand, the Thai Committee for Refugees Foundation (TCR) has been lobbying the country’s immigration bureau for two years in order to secure the release of asylum-seekers and refugees with children. Last year, the organisation had its first success when 96 Ahmadi refugees from Pakistan, including over 30 children, were released into outside accommodation paid for by the TCR. 

It’s not unheard of for the children of migrants to be detained as long as five years in Thailand. TCR will therefore, no doubt, hope to capitalise on the new IDC campaign against child detention, launched this week at the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Speaking to IRIN, the director of TCR spoke simply but movingly of the children who’ve been held inside the detention centres, describing the youngsters as “really desperate” to be free.

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