UN panel slams Israel for detaining migrant children, urges immediate end to policy

12:00 Jun 24 2013 Yahalom Detention Center, Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel

UN panel slams Israel for detaining migrant children, urges immediate end to policy
Migrant children eating in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park. Photo by Daniel Tchetchik

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child says number of children in detention here - including those born in Israel - has increased since August 2011.

By Ilan Lior for Haaretz

A United Nations committee has harshly criticized Israel’s detention of children of illegal migrants in a recent report, calling on Jerusalem to halt the policy immediately.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also blasted Israel's decision last year to amend its law on migrants entering the country illegally, saying the new legislation authorizes the extended detention of children even if they have been victims of exploitation, torture and trafficking before reaching the country.

Israel's High Court of Justice is currently considering a challenge to the law allowing the long-term detention of illegal aliens.

The UN committee also expressed concerns about what it called an increase in the number of migrant workers' children being detained - including children born in Israel - since August 2011. Some of the children had been taken into custody in the middle of the night under extremely stressful circumstances, the committee said.

Israel has three detention facilities for children, including the Yahalom detention center at Ben-Gurion International Airport. The airport facility is run by the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Administration, while the two others are run by the prison service.

The UN committee said the children in detention at the airport with their mothers are kept in cramped quarters and away from their fathers or other family members. It said they had no access to health care, social work staff or legal advice. But the immigration authority told Haaretz that only one child was at the facility at the moment, and the prison service said 25 children were at the two centers it runs.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira has also criticized the state's treatment of children in the country illegally. In his annual report last month, he said there were serious shortcomings in the welfare and health services and education provided to children of illegal foreign workers and other illegal aliens.

Regarding children here illegally with no parent or guardian, Shapira noted that international law allows detention only as a last resort and for the shortest time possible.

The UN committee called on Israel to examine each detained child's case individually, adding that the child’s interest must be the main consideration when incarceration, repatriation or deportation of a child or his parents is involved. The committee also called on Israel to ensure that the children of asylum seekers and migrant workers have access to education and health services.

The committee added that children who have been victims of torture, abuse or trafficking before arriving in Israel were not getting appropriate psychological counseling and support.
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