Migrant Children Arrests Have Long-Term Effects

At eight years old, Arun, a refugee from Myanmar, was thrown into a detention camp by immigration officers in Malaysia. Separated from his mother and younger sister, for five months Arun was forced into a bleak life beyond his control or understanding.

“I got one small bowl of food a day,” he told International Detention Coalition (IDC) researchers, as reported by IRIN news service. “We were never allowed to go outside. In the night I had to give massages to some of the men.”

The testimony of Arun (not his real name) is one of many firsthand accounts about experiences in detention that IDC researchers have been compiling from children and parents in 11 countries. Among the interviewees are refugees, asylum seekers, and irregular migrant children.

Arun and his family had been released before speaking to the researchers, but the scars of their detention remain. According to IRIN, Arun’s six-year-old sister has been too traumatized to eat.

Detention’s Toxic Effect on Children

The IDC, comprising 250 member groups working in 50 countries, estimates that every year hundreds of thousands of migrant, asylum-seeking, and refugee children are living in detention. The numbers of detained migrant children are growing in the context of an uptick in migrant detentions by authorities across the globe.

The impact of such detentions on children can be severe.
“Detention, even for a short time, has a very toxic effect on children,” said Jeroen Van Hove, IDC’s coordinator of a campaign seeking to prevent the immigration detention of children. That campaign was announced in Geneva on March 21 at a United Nations Human Rights Council session. 

A new report by the IDC cites studies finding that the immigration detention of children “has profound and far-reaching implications for their development and physical and psychological health.” According to the report, the longer the detention, the greater the chance that a child will develop anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The strains of even a short lock up can have negative, lingering effects on children.

SOS Children's Villages Helps Migrant Children 

Unaccompanied migrant children have enormous needs. At times of crisis such as displacement and migration due to violent conflict, SOS steps in to save children who are alone, hungry, and traumatized. 

In South Sudan, for instance, SOS will be setting up rescue centers in Juba and Malakal to care for 400 unaccompanied children under age 12. These children, from southern Sudan, fled north to Sudan prior to partition. Sudan now considers them refugees and will soon be repatriating them and a flood of other refugees to South Sudan, which will have difficulty accommodating them due to limited resources and infrastructure.
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