IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF urge European States to end child detention

New recommendations released by the three agencies offer solutions and alternatives to the continued practice of detaining asylum-seeking, refugee and migrant children across Europe.

05 July 2022
Eight-year-old Karina fled from the village of Zolote in the Luhansk region to Khust, located in western Ukraine.
Eight-year-old Karina fled from the village of Zolote in the Luhansk region to Khust, located in western Ukraine. She says it was impossible to sleep at night because of loud shooting and “Grad” rocket attacks.

Geneva, 5 July 2022 - In a briefing paper published today, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and IOM, the International Organization for Migration, detail the practice of child immigration detention across countries in Europe, and offer a range of alternatives and recommendations to help countries in ending child detention.

Detention has a profound and negative impact on child health and well-being and can have a long-lasting negative impact on children’s cognitive development. Placement in detention is known to exacerbate psychological distress and children held in detention are at risk of suffering depression and anxiety as well as violence and abuse.

"Several countries in Europe have demonstrated that alternatives to detention for children and families can be safe, dignified and cost-effective – we urge all European States adopt these approaches to protect the rights and well-being of refugee and migrant children," said Pascale Moreau, UNHCR’s Regional Director for Europe.

In the joint review conducted by IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF in 38 countries across the European region, the agencies found many worrying examples of child detention. It also found that alternatives to detention such as supported independent living, foster and family-based care, and other child-friendly and child-centred models are already in place in various European countries and offer viable and cost-efficient solutions for host States.

"Children on the move are first and foremost children, regardless of where they are from and why they left their homes. Detention of children is never in their best interests, is a violation of their rights, and must be avoided at all costs," said Afshan Khan, UNICEF's Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe.

The recommendations set forth by the three agencies include expanding alternatives to detention for children and families, investing in reception conditions and national child protection systems and enhancing national data collection and monitoring capacities within States as well as the European Union.

"Family unity and the best interests of the child go hand in hand in the context of persons on the move. We encourage governments to work to replace immigration detention for children and families with community-based programmes, case management and other rights-based alternatives, which have proven highly effective,” said Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director for the EEA, EU and NATO.

For Editors: 

The advocacy brief is the result of an ongoing collaboration among the three agencies and has led to the release of several joint publications on the situation of refugee, migrant and unaccompanied children in Europe. These include the briefing paper on access to education published in September 2019, as well as annual factsheets with trends and data on accompanied, unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children in Europe.

Advocacy brief

Briefing paper on access to education 

Annual factsheet


For more information on this topic, please contact: 

IOM: Ryan Schroeder,, +32 492 25 02 34

UNHCR: Jody Clarke,, +41 79 337 7650 

UNICEF: Iryna Mazur,, +41 79 767 2298

Media contacts

Iryna Mazur
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF Europe and Central Asia
Jody Clarke
Tel: +41 79 337 7650

Additional resources

About IOM

As the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, with 174 member states and a presence in over 100 countries, we work closely with our partners to promote safe, humane and orderly migration that benefits migrants and society.

For more information about IOM, visit


About UNHCR 

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, protects people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution.  We save lives, protect rights and help build better futures.

For more information about UNHCR’s work in Europe, visit



UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit

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