We challenged immigration detention of children before the UN CRC

Forum for Human Rights and Organisation for Aid to Refugees have filed a complaint with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child against Czech Republic in case of a family from Afghanistan who was detained in Czech immigration detention for over a month in 2019. The family argues that by depriving their children of liberty, the Czech authorities had violated the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is the first such complaint against the Czech Republic to an international human rights body. The Committee’s decision may thus set a precedent for similar cases in the future. For 10 years, the Geneva-based Committee has repeatedly found that immigration detention of children is always in violation of the Convention. Last year, the CRC Committeee urged the Czech authorities to completely abandon this harmful practice. The family was supported by the Organisation for Aid to Refugees and the Forum for Human Rights with the help of attorney JUDr. Maroš Matiaško.

The family belongs to the Sikh religious minority. The Taliban has repeatedly pressured them to convert to Islam and threatened to kidnap their minor daughters. The family therefore fled to Austria in 2016, where they applied for international protection. But even after more than three years, they have not received a response from the Austrian authorities. Moreover, they lived there in substandard conditions in a container accommodation where their daughters could not study properly. They therefore decided to leave Austria in spring 2019. The Czech police found the family in an unmaintained house near the German border, where they were held for several days by smugglers. Subsequently, the family was placed in a closed detention facility in Bělá-Jezová until their return to Austria could be faciilitated. Under EU law, Austria was responsible for assessing their asylum claim. One of the daughters was only 11 years old at the time of her detention, the other between 17 and 18 years old. The family spent a total of 34 days in detention. They had agreed to return to Austria from the outset. The family subsequently obtained international protection in Austria. The family repeatedly challenged their detention before the Czech courts but all in vain.

“In the last five years, 15 to 30 children a year have regularly ended up in Czech immigration detention. The research shows that immigration detention has alwaysa negative impact on children. That is, even in situations where conditions in detention facilities are generally quite good. These are often children who have undergone a traumatic experience in their country of origin or on their way to Europe. This is why immigration detention of children is internationally considered an inappropriate and fundamentally harmful practice that should be abandoned,” says Zuzana Pavelková, lawyer from the Organisation for the Aid to Refugees.

“Moreover, in many cases, detention is completely unnecessary. In this case too, the family cooperated with the Czech authorities. When it was explained to them that they had to wait for the outcome of the asylum procedure in Austria, they regretted their actions. They repeatedly asked for their transfer to be arranged as quickly as possible. The Czech police were therefore able to use so-called alternatives to detention instead of detention. For example, placing the family in an open residence centre,” says Alexandra Dubová from the Forum for Human Rights. She adds: “Moreover, it is striking that in this case the police did not address the fact that the family itself could have become a victim of organised crime by the smugglers.”

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is the UN body that oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Czech Republic ratified the Convention in 1991. The Committee receives complaints for violations of the Convention and interprets the Convention through the so-called General Comments. In two of them, it has officially determined that immigration detention of children is always a violation of the Convention. Recommendations to end immigration detention of children have been made by the CRC Committee and other UN human rights bodies in recent years.

The CRC Committee’s recommendations towards the Czech Republic and the key decisions of the Czech courts in the case are available here: