Switzerland: Tdh denounces the detention of migrant children
In several Swiss cantons, migrant children are being held unnecessarily in administrative detention, in spite of their rights. Two years after our first survey on this issue, Terre des hommes (Tdh) has published another report in which we denounce inconsistent practices and demand alternatives to detention.
Underage, traumatised and in most cases alone, migrant children in Switzerland need to be protected, regardless of whether they are accompanied by their parents. In certain Swiss cantons, their rights are not being respected. Their immigrant status is wrongly being placed before their best interests, particularly in cases of administrative detention, as demonstrated by our latest independent study.
Detention − even for a short a period of time – has adverse psychological effects on children. The trauma they have experienced before their departure or along their journey is at risk of being exacerbated. Moreover, sleep problems, depression and anxiety increase their sense of isolation and can, in extreme cases, lead to suicide attempts.
The application of the Swiss law authorising the administrative detention of migrant children between the ages of 15 and 18 varies throughout Switzerland. Their assignment to one canton or the other has a major bearing on the treatment to which they are entitled, as practices vary greatly between cantons. Although prohibited, the detention of children under 15 years of age, whether accompanied by their parents or not, was reported in some of the cantons surveyed. Only two cantons strictly prohibit this practice (GE, NE) and six cantons do not apply it as a matter of principle (JU, VD, BL, AI, AR, NW). The lack of reliable data from the Swiss government on the number of underage migrants in detention is worrying and skews the analysis.
Tdh’s latest report denounces these practices and recommends non-custodial alternatives to administrative detention. “First, we must consider the least invasive measures. It is not always necessary to detain families. It is possible to let them live at home or in reception facilities, by putting in place effective restraining measures until their departure, adapted to the children's school hours. Examples have shown that this can work”, says Valentina Darbellay, head of Terre des hommes’ Advocacy programme in Switzerland.
Photo credit: © Tdh/Ollivier Girard