“World Refugee Day: Stop Fencing out Democracy”, by David Edwards.

In her 1948 speech concluding the work of the nascent UN Commission on Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Democracy, freedom, human rights have come to have a definite meaning to the people of the world which we must not allow any nation to so change that they are made synonymous with suppression and dictatorship.”

The truth must never be considered so obvious that it can be left unsaid or even unshouted when under assault from lies and deceptions.

Not having papers or leaving a native land does not diminish the humanity and rights of the undocumented or the migrant. Neither does the status of childhood.

It is the vulnerability of children to abuse of their rights that gave birth to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child[1], which was adopted in 1989 and entered into force in 1990. It rapidly became the most ratified human rights convention.

The preamble of the Convention states,

“Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding ...”

Article 37 of that Convention provides that, “Every child, at all times, has a fundamental right to liberty and freedom from immigration detention.”

However, many countries, including some having ratified the Convention, are detaining immigrant children. It is among the inhumane migration practices of the government of Australia. Many European countries still detain immigrant children as well, with particularly large numbers held in Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.

As recently as 19 December of 2018, the General Assembly set as an objective (Objective 13 (h), the ending of such practises when it adopted the UN Global Compact for safe, orderly, and regular migration[2].

Among those voting against the Compact were some countries with the worst records of detention of migrant children; Hungary, Poland, and the United States.

In the US, under the Trump Administration, such human rights abuses are taking place on a massive scale, with many thousands of children separated from their families. It is estimated that, in the last year alone, 2500 child were affected.

At least 10,500 minors who are migrants or seeking asylum are being held in more than 100 detention centres and, according to the US government, in recent months, at least six children have died while in custody.

Education International joined Public Services International and our common US affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers (and other groups) in a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council on US government detention of children, a practice that is contrary to universal human rights standards. We are urging the UNHRC to act and to seek justice.

To add insult to injury, recently the Federal Government eliminated English-language instruction and recreation for children in detention centres. Both of EI’s US member organisations, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association immediately reacted against that decision as an arbitrary erosion of education quality and a danger to the physical and mental health of detained children.

Under the Trump Administration, lies, racist rhetoric, and political expediency seek to crush respect for the fundamental human rights of migrants and refugees. It is a kind of “identity” politics where identity is defined by what one is against, the outsider, rather than what one is for.

Policies targeting immigrants and refugees are intended to incite fear and elicit division. Entire nations are suffering. However, policies and politics of hate are cruellest when the price is paid by the most defenceless among us; children.



[1]The United States fully participated in the preparation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child during the Reagan Administration and submitted several texts that were accepted. The Convention was signed during the Clinton Administration, however, it was never submitted to the US Senate for ratification. The rejection of the Global Compact on Migration by the Trump Administration showed, nevertheless, a radical shift on migration and children’s rights as compared with previous Administrations.

[2]Objective 13 (h) reads, “Protect and respect the rights and best interests of the child at all times, regardless of their migration status, by ensuring availability and accessibility of a viable range of alternatives to detention in non-custodial contexts, favouring community-based care arrangements, that ensure access to education and healthcare, and respect their right to family life and family unity, and by working to end the practice of child detention in the context of international migration.”


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David Edwards

David Edwards is the General Secretary of Education International.

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