Eighty-three percent of detained migrant children and parents in Israel suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress order, a study published last week found.
The report, a joint effort of the End Child Detention Coalition and researchers at Tel Aviv University, is the first to study the psychological and physical effects on children of migrant workers and asylum-seekers.
More than 200 children of migrant workers and asylum- seekers were detained in 2013, often for long periods, due a lack of specific immigration policy, the researchers wrote. The children were usually held in either the Yahalom facility at Ben-Gurion Airport or the Saharonim detention center in the Negev.
The study, conducted by Rotem Ilan of the End Child Detention Coalition and Prof.
Michelle Sloan and doctoral student Yael Me’ir of Tel Aviv University, surveyed 66 migrant children (parents responded for the younger ones) who were detained or are being detained.
The average age of the children was 10.6; 42 were held with their families and 24 were minors held alone.
Some 25.8% of the children were held for less than a week, 32.3% between a week and a month, 21% between one and six months, and 11.3% between one and two years.
More than half of the children of asylum-seekers surveyed suffered some kind of traumatic experience before their detention, the researchers found. Twenty-seven percent of children were held in torture camps in Sinai, 26% were abducted, 21% had a near death experience, and 26% lost a family member. In addition, 51% of children were separated from a family member.
According to the report, ”83% of the responses from children over the age of 12 and their parents showed signs of post-trauma from high to severe levels.” Fifty-four percent reported difficulties sleeping at night, 68% re-experienced difficult memories, and 42% experienced physiological problems such as heart palpitations and difficulty breathing.
“Most children under the age of 12 have shown psychological difficulties, severe emotional distress and behavior problems,” according to the report.
It clarified that while it was impossible to be sure whether the post-trauma was a result of earlier trauma or of the detention or both, there was a correlation between the length of the child’s detention and the degree of psychological distress displayed.
“The findings highlight extremely worrying statistics regarding the emotional and psychological conditions and development of children of migrants and asylum-seekers who were arrested and detained,” Sloan and Me’ir said in a joint statement.
“The results highlight the urgent need to find alternatives to detention and imprisonment, and to prevent physical and mental damage to the children at any cost,” they said.
Seventy-eight percent of the children were arrested in the early morning, when the child was still sleeping in bed. In 44.4% of arrests, immigration inspectors broke through the door, and respondents said there was an average of 10 inspectors wearing uniform present at the time of each arrest.
In many cases an arrest warrant was not presented to the families, though it is required by law. A total of 71.21% of respondents said they did not understand the inspectors, while only 45.45% were offered translation assistance.
The conditions in the detention centers were discussed in the report: 66.7% of children were not given toys or games, 40.32% were not allowed to have a daily stroll in the yard and 72% had no playground facilities in the yard. In addition, 40% of mothers detained were not provided diapers for their children.
In the Yahalom facility, children did not receive any education and 62.5% did not meet with a social worker. In the Saharonim facility, 44.4% required medical attention, but 66.6% reported receiving insufficient or no care.
“The study strengthens the fact that prison is no place for children. A cage of gold is still a cage, and improving conditions is not an adequate response,” said Dr. Graciela Carmon, a pediatric psychiatrist and co-chairwoman of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. “The children’s safety can only be assured if we adopt humane alternatives, as in other Western countries.”
According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s website, more than 5,000 minors without legal status live in Israel.
The End Child Detention Coalition works to find alternative solutions to child imprisonment.
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