Italy: ICJ and others intervene in case of unaccompanied children before European Court

The ICJ and others intervened before the European Court of Human Rights in a case of thirteen undocumented children held in a hotspot in Italy.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), the Dutch Council for Refugees and the AIRE Centre jointly intervened in the case of Trawalli and others v. Italy.

In this case, the European Court of Human Rights is called to rule, among other issues, on whether their detention and reception conditions were lawful and/or constituted an inhuman or degrading treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In their third party intervention, the three human rights organizations submitted the following arguments:

a) Taking into consideration migrant children’s status as persons in situations of vulnerability and the principle of the best interests of the child, article 5 ECHR should be read in light of the rising consensus in international law towards a prohibition of detention of children on immigration grounds, in particular based on the consolidated and clear position of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This applies to all instances of deprivation of liberty irrespective of their classification under domestic law.

b) In addition to the above, detention under article 5.1 ECHR will in any event be unlawful and arbitrary where it lacks a clear and accessible legal basis, outlining the permissible grounds of detention as well as the relevant procedural guarantees and remedies available to detainees, including judicial review and access to legal advice and assistance. In light of the obligations of EU Member States under EU law, the interveners submit that detention of asylum seeking children falling within the scope of the recast Reception Conditions Directive will result in a breach of the Convention standards also where it is not used as a measure of last resort, but rather is imposed without consideration of less onerous alternative measures and where the child’s best interests assessment has not been carried out and reflected in this decision.

c) Due to children’s extreme vulnerability, their detention for immigration purposes risks leading to a violation of Article 3 ECHR because of inadequate living conditions and/or to a violation of Article 8 ECHR because of a disproportionate and unnecessary interference with their development and personal autonomy, as protected under Article 8. In this sense, Article 8 must be regarded as affording protection from conditions of detention which would not reach the level of severity required to engage Article 3.

d) When the authorities deprive or seek to deprive a child of her or his liberty, they must ensure that he/she effectively benefits from an enhanced set of guarantees in addition to undertaking the diligent assessment of her/his best interest noted above. The guarantees include: prompt identification and appointment of a competent guardian; a child-sensitive due process framework, including the child’s rights to receive information in a child-friendly language, the right to be heard and have her/his views taken into due consideration depending on his/her age and maturity, to have access to justice and to challenge the detention conditions and lawfulness before a judge; free legal assistance and representation, interpretation and translation. The Contracting Parties must also immediately provide the child access to an effective remedy.

e) In order to fully comply with their obligations under the Convention, Contracting Parties must guarantee that asylum seeking children are accommodated in reception facilities which are adapted to their specific needs and provide adequate material conditions adapted to their age, condition of dependency and enhanced vulnerability. To do otherwise results in a failure by States to comply with their obligations under Article 3 ECHR and their specific obligations under EU law.

Italy-icj&others-Trawalli&others-Advocacy-legal submission-2018-ENG (download the intervention)

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