Migrant Children and a Family Environment

The right of migrant children to grow up in a family is frequently violated. When parents are detained for violating migration rules, their children are declared “left without care” / “unsupervised“ / “unaccompanied” and sent to a hospital and then on to a closed children’s facility. The presence of other relatives who could care for the child is not taken into account.

Wrong approach

Heavy-handed raids by the migration police, separation of children from their parents without sufficient grounds under decisions of law enforcement agencies, deprivation of the liberty of migrant parents in special institutions, placement of children in a hospital and then in a closed children’s institution for an extended period with no chance of an education.

Child Rights approach

Social services must assess the danger posed by a child’s environment. A child in a dangerous situation must be taken to a humanized social institution. If there is no danger to the child, social services must monitor and support the family at its place of residence or in public housing that has been provided for it while the authorities review the family’s situation and decide its fate.


A family of refugees from Afghanistan were living in Russia and awaiting legal status. Migration officers burst into their apartment, removed the children, and placed them in the hospital for 10 days, even though they were healthy. In spite of the fact that all of the family members were documented and the parents had created normal conditions for raising children, the parents were not allowed to collect the children. Both the children and the parents suffered from the separation.

ADC «Memorial» commentary:

In this situation, there were no grounds for separating the children from their parents. Social services should have helped the family arrange for the children’s education and receive social support.

Psychologist’s сommentary

Children in this situation need care from a psychologist, because their unexpected evaluation in a hospital violates their sense of stability and predictability, causes fear, and increases anxiety. The situation is all the more stressful because there are no understandable explanations for what has happened.

A family from Tajikistan consisted of a mother, a father, and a five-month-old child. The father had a residence permit for Russia, but the mother and the child did not. Police burst into their home, detained the mother and child, and took them to the police precinct. Police officers wrote a report that they had found an “abandoned” child. At the precinct, the police separated the infant from his mother and took him to the hospital. The mother was taken to court, where a decision was adopted on her expulsion. The child entered the hospital healthy, but when his father arrived in the morning, he was shown the body of his son. The circumstances and causes of the child’s death remain unclear (doctors assert that the infant died of a virus, but his parents and experts have severe doubts). The mother was sent to Tajikistan with her child’s body. Appeals in Russian courts concerning the illegal separation of the mother and her child ending in the child’s death have not produced results. The family is appealing to the ECtHR to protect the family’s rights.

ADC «Memorial» commentary:

Separation from his mother proved fatal for the infant and caused irreparable harm to the family, especially the young mother. The official reason for the separation was a report on the discovery of an abandoned child drawn up by a police officer. This report was actually a distortion of the real situation: The police knew that the baby had been detained with his mother and that he was not given to his grandmother when she came to the precinct with the proper documents. There is no doubt that the child was psychologically traumatized when he was taken from his mother and sent to the hospital alone. Even though the cause of his death is unclear, the state is still responsible for it because it is responsible for his arrest. The government’s refusal to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the circumstances of the child’s detention, separation, and subsequent death is a gross violation of family rights.

Psychologist’s сommentary

The separation of a child from their mother at such an early age is devasting for the child. Specialists note that the mortality rate for infants separated from their mother is especially high for various reasons, including toxic shock. The child’s mother needs psychological care since the experience of such a loss is reflected in her emotional state and her ability to build a healthy relationship with children in the future.

A family of migrant workers from Uzbekistan was expecting its third child in Russia. The wife was accused of violating migration rules in her last week of pregnancy. A court placed her in a temporary detention facility for foreign nationals in anticipation of expulsion, while her two children were sent to the Tranzit shelter. When she was in labor, the wife was taken under convoy to the maternity hospital and then sent back with her newborn to the temporary facility for foreign nationals, which does not provide conditions for supporting children, especially infants, or provide any medical assistance. The mother and newborn were quickly deported to Uzbekistan, while the preschool-aged children were kept in the Tranzit shelter for another two months. Later, social workers from the shelter would bring the children to Tashkent, where they would meet their mother, who had been previously expelled. If these children had been expelled prior to their mother, they would have entered the Tashkent Transit Institution, which is a closed children’s institution.

ADC «Memorial» commentary:

This was a case of the gross violation of the child’s right to a family environment. The mother and her children should not have been placed in different closed institutions and expelled separately. In this case, this family should have been supported. The mother should have received medical care, and no one should have been expelled in these circumstances.

Psychologist’s сommentary

Several aspects of this situation should be highlighted. First of all, the mother’s stress level during her last week of pregnancy and while she was in labor could be reflected in the emotional state of the infant; the mother’s delivery to the hospital under convoy and then her presence, with her child, in improper conditions for a new mother heightened the impact on her emotional health. Separation from their children increases anxiety in mothers and is instrumental in the formation of anxious attachment for both mother and child.

Second of all, children can suffer severe psychological consequences from being unexpectedly separated from their mother and placed in a children’s home. Children under the age of three who have been separated from their parents often lag in physical, emotional, and psychological development. The trauma of separation may lead to future affective behavior and depressive disorders in children over the age of three. It is possible that phobias will develop (fear of new things, change). Even after they are reunited with their mother, children continue to fear separation, and feelings of helplessness and vulnerability lead to greater anxiety and increase the risk for depressive disorders in adulthood.

In this case, psychological damage was done to all the family members: the mother, the infant, and the small children. They will all need psychological care, and the infant is at great risk for negative consequences as he gets older.

A migrant from Tajikistan gave birth to a baby but immediately abandoned it. Children’s services transferred the baby to an adoptive family, which gave the child Russian citizenship. This case became known to the Tajik authorities (apparently, medical privilege and the confidentiality of adoption were violated, while the mother’s name was made known to the media). Citing the requirement to implement the Chisinau Agreement, Tajik authorities demanded that the child be returned to the mother’s country of origin. The infant was taken from a family of Russian citizens that adored him and placed in a children’s shelter. Later, representatives of Tajikistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs took the child from Russia and changed the first and last name given by the adoptive parents. Upon arrival in Tajikistan, the child was placed in a children’s home.

ADC «Memorial» commentary:

In this case, enormous harm was done to a child, who was taken from a loving family and placed in a children’s institution. If a country insists on the return of children abandoned by mothers who are citizens of this country, then these children should not be transferred to this country for adoption, but placed temporarily in a host family and sent home with a childminder (nanny), not Ministry of Internal Affairs officers, to a place that has been prepared for them (ideally in a family).

Psychologist’s сommentary

In this case, the infant suffered two traumas: the absence of maternal care in his first days of life resulted in a preliminary attachment disorder, and separation from his loving adoptive parents to whom he had already grown attached caused him a second, even deeper trauma. This child will most likely develop avoidant attachment, which could lead to lack of basic trust in the world, difficulties establishing close relationships, a closed demeanor or aggressiveness, and the formation of affective disorders.

A child was killed in a place where undocumented migrants from Ukraine lived. The police officers who responded removed all the children. Even though the children were healthy, they were first sent to the hospital and were then moved to a transit shelter 10 days later. At the shelter the children were declared “foundlings” and were not returned to their parents because the parents could not present documents confirming their relationship to the children. These children spent years in the transit facility, which they could not leave; they did not receive an education there. They were later moved to a children’s home and then adopted.

ADC «Memorial» commentary:

The removal of these children from their family seems justified in this case because the children were in a dangerous situation. However, the practice of placing healthy children in a hospital for an extended period is unreasonable (an exam and treatment order, if necessary, are sufficient). But the most controversial point was the arbitrary declaration that the children were “foundlings.” It would have been better to conduct a comprehensive review of each child’s safety, establish the identities of their parents, and contact their country of origin to determine the safest and best option of each child. If it is dangerous for a child to be in its family, then there must be an alternative of placement in a family instead of an extended stay in a closed institution with no access to education. Children must be returned to their country of origin under the supervision of children’s services because of the need to assess any danger the children may face from their relatives.

Psychologist’s сommentary

The removal of these children from their family was necessary because there was a high risk to their life and health. It is possible that they witnessed a murder, which could result in serious consequences, so it is very important for a psychologist to explore this situation. Separation from parents in any case is stressful for children, even if their needs have been neglected and they have been treated cruelly. The circumstances the children end up in after they have been removed from their family are extremely important. The change in institutions (hospital, transit institution, children’s home) and the absence of conditions for development and proper care for children who have suffered severe distress creates psychological and behavioral disorders. Work with a psychologist can help alleviate these consequences.