Plan to keep migrant families with children in closed centre comes in for criticism

Tuesday, 15 May 2018 15:24
Plan to keep migrant families with children in closed centre comes in for criticism © Belga
A plan to open a closed centre for migrant families with children has been denounced as contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Sudpresse and Het Laatste Nieuws reported on Tuesday that the plan was approved by the Restricted Council of Ministers, and that the planned “housing units” could be occupied by migrant families as early as July.

However, this does not respect the best interest of the children, according to Sylvie Sarolea, a professor of Immigration Law at the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL – Catholic University of Leuven).

The 1989 International Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Belgium, states in its article 3 that "in all actions concerning children […] the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration,” Ms Sarolea noted.  This means that “when you weigh the interest of the child and that of the State to control its borders for example, the former has more weight. It does not exclude the interest of the State, but is stronger than it,” she added.

For the interest of the State to take precedence, it must “demonstrate forcefully that detaining a child makes its immigration policy more effective”, whereas this is not the case, Ms Sarolea explained. “We can say that in the present state of affairs that demonstration has not been made.”

Moreover, child psychiatrists have shown for many years now the “dramatic” consequences of detaining a child, she stressed, adding, “even if the policy were effective, given the violence done to the child, the measure would still be a problem”.

Additionally, Art.37 of the Convention states that detaining a child can only be used as a last resort, whereas “the State of Belgium has not convinced us that this is really a last resort because a whole range of guarantees have not been put in place,” Ms Sarolea pointed out, especially since Belgium has already been condemned on three occasions by the European Court of Human Rights for detaining children in closed centres.

“It’s not because these (housing units) will be newer and renovated that the conditions change. You can draw giraffes on walls, but they’ll still be walls,” she added.

The immigration law expert also pointed to a child rights committee linked to the 1989 Convention that was established two years ago, and which issues “communications” and not rulings. She stressed that this committee could very well state that Belgium is violating the law and is guilty of illegal behaviour, an argument that the families concerned could use in a court of law.

Christopher Vincent
The Brussels Times
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