UN focuses on refugees, but clause on child detention weakened

Date: 20th September 2016
Category: Armed conflict

For the first time, the General Assembly has called for a summit at the Heads of State and Government level on large movements of refugees and migrants. However, key commitments are missing, including best interests of the child regarding detention.

The summit aims to strengthen governance of international migration and to create a more responsible, predictable system for responding to large movements of refugees and migrants. At the summit, world leaders will adopt the New York Declaration, or the 'outcome document', which enshrines certain principles such as a commitment to share responsibility for the refugee crisis more equitably between member states and to combat racism and xenophobia.

There have however been multiple criticisms of the document originating from a generalised language and weak commitments. Absent from the document, for example, is a clear commitment to resettle 10% of the world's refugees.

A clause on the detention of children was watered down - and one country that pressed for that was the US, which detains undocumented children crossing its southern border from Mexico. Rather than the original commitment to prohibit detention entirely, it now reads that detention "is seldom, if ever, in the best interest of the child".

This is in contradiction with the new Concluding Observations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which says that the State Party must cease the detention of asylum-seeking and migrant children entirely (page 21).

While welcoming parts of the declaration, NGOS have been critical overall. Oxfam has called it a disappointing outcome.

This weekend, charities such as Amnesty Scotland, Save the Children Scotland, Oxfam Scotland and the Scottish Refugee Council gathered in Glasgow with refugees to send the message via the hashtag #refuweegees that they are welcome in the city. Scottish charities and aid agencies have joined others around the UK in calling for more action for refugees from the UK Government.