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Successful international conference on Safeguarding children’s rights in immigration law

On 22 and 23 November 2018, the international conference ‘Safeguarding Children’s Rights in Immigration Law’ organized by the Institute of Immigration Law and the Department of Child Law took place at Leiden University. Currently, there exists tension between the idea that children deserve specific protection in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the increasing use of restrictive migration policies and the securitization of migration control. The conference aimed to bring together an international and inter-disciplinary group of scholars and practitioners to discuss the legal challenges of safeguarding children’s rights in immigration law.

Report by Anne Aagten, Research and Teaching Staff Member at the Institute of Immigration Law

On 22 and 23 November 2018, the international conference ‘Safeguarding Children’s Rights in Immigration Law’ organized by the Institute of Immigration Law and the Department of Child Law took place at Leiden University. Currently, there exists tension between the idea that children deserve specific protection in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the increasing use of restrictive migration policies and the securitization of migration control. The conference aimed to bring together an international and inter-disciplinary group of scholars and practitioners to discuss the legal challenges of safeguarding children’s rights in immigration law.

Due to the high number of paper submissions for the conference, it was decided to organise a PhD/Early career scholar panel on Thursday 22 November 2018. During this panel, young researchers were given the opportunity to present their research, followed by a question and answer session where they received valuable feedback from the other conference participants. Furthermore, in between the presentations and at the end of the panel, there was plenty of opportunity for the participants to expand their network. The programme of the panel was divided into two workshops, covering ‘Detention of minors’ and ‘Children and family life’.

During the first workshop, the practice of the detention of child asylum seekers was covered from different (legal) perspectives. The first presentation by Stephen Philips (Åbo Akademi University), touched upon the role international human rights law plays in allowing (mental) health impact on child asylum seekers in detention. Audrey Plan (College of European and International Studies of Bayonne) provided the first conclusions of her research in which she analyses whether and to what extent the detention of unaccompanied minors in EU Member States is allowed under EU law. The last speaker of this first workshop was Milka Sormunen (University of Helsinki), who presented her research on immigration detention of children in light of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

The second workshop was started by Marit Buddenbaum (Leiden University) who stressed the urgency of recognizing and protecting the sibling bond in migration. Caterina Tempesta (Office of the Children’s Lawyer in Ontario, Canada) elaborated upon potential alternatives to immigration detention of children and zoomed into the Canadian practice. This presentation was followed by Mark Klaassen and Gerrie Lodder (Leiden University) who discussed the distinction between refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection as sponsor for family reunification and the position of child brides in EU family reunification law. Simona Florescu (Leiden University) closed the programme with her presentation on how family courts incorporate refugee law concepts in child abduction cases.

After opening words from Prof. Ton Liefaard and Dean of Leiden Law School Prof. Joanne van der Leun, the main programme on Friday 23 November 2018 commenced with three keynote presentations. First, Ms. Andrea Vonkeman (Head UNHCR the Netherlands) shared valuable practical insights about the consultation process initiated by UNHCR to create a European approach to the problem that in practice the protection of unaccompanied minors falls short despite promising guarantees in the law. As an example of one of these shortcomings she used the wide variety of methods EU Member States use for age determination of unaccompanied minors. The second key note speaker, Dr. Bina D’Costa (Australian National University, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific) also showed that there is a discrepancy between existing legal standards and practice in the protection of unaccompanied minors by showing the main outcomes of a research carried out by UNICEF into the way Nordic states treat asylum seeking children. Furthermore, she shared her experiences while working as a member of the UNICEF Rohingya Emergency Reponse Team and explained that due to the impossibility for Rohingya people to obtain civil rights, Rohingya children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. The third and last key note speaker was Prof. Peter Rodrigues (Chair of the Institute for Immigration Law, Leiden University). Rodrigues discussed the question whether children can be identified with the behaviour of their parents in immigration proceedings. He explained that despite that Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly forbids the discrimination of children based on their parent’s behaviour, jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights allows for the identification of children with the behaviour of their parents. More specifically, children can be identified with their parents behaviour in case parents could exploit the position of their children to obtain a better immigration status for themselves.

The Friday afternoon was reserved for workshops on ‘The best interests of the child in immigration law’, ‘The Right to be heard’, ‘Forced Migration and trafficking’, ‘Access to justice’ and ‘Reception and immigration detention of children’. Numerous presentations by speakers from both academia and practice where held and there was plenty of space for discussion and exchange of ideas after each presentation.

The conference was closed by Mr George Moschos, who was the Children’s Ombudsman of Greece from 2003 until 2018. He reflected on the conference, drawing from his extensive experience of working with refugee and migrant children on the ground. He stressed the importance of the integration of children in society and changing the mentalities of people towards migrants to ensure the effective implementation of children’s rights in practice.  All things considered, we look back on an inspiring and thought-provoking conference.

A selection of the papers that were presented at the conference will be published in the conference book ‘Safeguarding children’s rights in immigration law’ to be published by Intersentia at the end of 2019.

“A really enriching 2-day exchange of viewpoints in a very friendly and conversation-inductive environment. Hope to be back soon for another one of your conferences!”

“Excellent conference bringing up some very relevant and timely issues. Much needed! Thanks for the wonderful welcoming and friendliness of the organisers and Leiden University.” 

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