The sheer number of people suffering forced displacement today is staggering—the greatest flow of refugees since World War II. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 65.3 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide. Of those, 21.3 million are designated as refugees, and almost half of those people hail from just three countries: Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria. Five million have fled Syria alone, and more than 6 million are internally displaced there. Estimates put the death toll in Syria’s five-year civil war at more than 400,000. The destructive war in Yemen, meanwhile, has forced more than 3 million to flee their homes.
From October 2013, to August 2015, 102,000 unaccompanied children reached the US from Mexico and Central American countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Fleeing gang-related violence extreme poverty and states unable or unwilling to protect them, these numbers are dramatically higher than the steady flows of migrants arriving from the region since the 1980s. Rights groups argue that though six out of 10 Central Americans arriving have valid asylum claims, they are routinely treated as economic migrants and not as refugees.
Kevin Appleby, Director of New York’s Center for Migration Studies, told IPS, In the context of Central American refugees, it’s brazenly clear that the policy is driven by national interest,” Appleby responded. “Everything I’ve heard him saying – about helping people and saving people in the Mediterranean, in terms of family reunification – our administration is guilty of”. The US is “spending millions of dollars on detention, family detention with private prison companies,” says Appleby, “and in paying the Mexican authorities to interdict and stem the flow of migrants,” who are there further marginalised and frequently returned to the situations they originally fled.
“It is completely unequivocal for us that child detention solves nothing, and all it does is punish some of the most vulnerable who have had absolutely no hand in creating the situations that they are trying to escape,” Hannah Stoddart, Director of Advocacy and Communications at War Child, told IPS. “We see that children in conflict situations and children fleeing conflict are often at much higher risk of detention, and our message is very clear that no child should be criminalised because they have fled the horrors of war, and no child should be criminalised because of their parents, and because of the status of their parents.”
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, states that “no child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily.” It also states that the detention of a child should be “for the shortest appropriate period of time.” Australia’s policy of detaining refugee children at offshore detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru has come under criticism because the children detained there are held on an indefinite basis.
The NGO, War Child, lamented that, of the United Kingdom’s pledge of 100 million pounds will be spent on deterrence. They say this money would “be far better invested in the education and protection of children who have fled conflict and persecution”.