Israel finished in 15th place in a ranking of 20 countries on the detention of migrant children in a study published this week by the Australian-based International Detention Coalition, which advocates on behalf of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. The United States ranked the worst, in the 20th spot.
The organization gave the best marks to Brazil, which reportedly has a policy of allowing asylum seekers and their children to live in the community together while their asylum or immigration requests are being considered.
In its online summary on Israel, the organization said that migrant children can be detained on arrival in the country "but the law provides grounds for [their] release. As a result, the majority of children spend a short period of time in detention."
Although the group said children and their families can face extended period of detention in Israel, it added: "Commendably, children seeking asylum, whether unaccompanied or with their families, are regularly released from detention."
The organization's list includes a mix of countries including those in Europe, Africa, the Western Hemisphere and Asia. Rounding out the best five rankings on the list behind Brazil were Ireland, Italy, Canada and Switzerland.
When it comes to Israel, the organization said "age assessment procedures are not always accurate, and screening and processing needs to be urgently and comprehensively developed to provide better interest determinations and case management programs for all children, including those with families."
Until 2011, Israel's Population Authority refrained from deporting migrant women and their children, preferring instead to expel only fathers. As a result, however, the other family members generally followed them out of the country. Beginning in 2011, the authority began deporting entire families.
The detention of juveniles mostly occurred when underage migrants from Africa crossed into Israel from Egypt and were arrested or when they were in Israel illegally with their families and were detained together until their deportation.
Since 2013, Israel has no longer jailed children of asylum seekers from Sudan or Eritrea, but has continued to detain children of illegal labor migrants and asylum seekers from other countries whose requests are denied.
A report by the Israeli organization Hotline for Refugees and Migrants provides examples of the effects of detention on migrants and their children. One couple, who came to Israel in 1997 from the Ivory Coast in West Africa and said that they had been persecuted for their anti-government political activities, had two children who were born in Israel and went to Israeli schools.
A number of lawyers tried unsuccessfully to obtain legal status for the family over the years as asylum seekers.
In 2017, three weeks before the end of the school year, the family's 16-year-old son and his mother were arrested by immigration inspectors and were jailed. When the father and an eight-year-old son came to visit them, they were also arrested.
After the family posted a bond, the teenage son and his mother were allowed to remain in the country for two additional weeks so the son could finish his matriculation exams. The father and younger son were led directly to a plane for flights to the Ivory Coast.
A 2014 report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hotline and the UN High Commission for Refugees quoted a mother who was in detention with her small child describing detention "in facilities that weren't very clean and that were equipped with one closed window. It was stifling." She complained that she didn't have soap to wash her baby's bottle or hot water for formula and that it took a long time for staff to bring it.
A 2013 report from the State Comptroller's Office called on the Israeli government to follow policies that would not call into question its commitment to the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that detention of children be only a last resort and that it be for as short a time as possible.
Research has shown that even short periods of detention can inflict emotional and physical harm on migrant children and can affect them for the rest of their lives. Hotline has called on the government to make use of alternatives employed elsewhere around the world instead of detaining children, and claimed that the alternative to detention is also less expensive.
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