Migrant children and families with children should be housed in non-custodial facilities while their immigration status is processed, according to a non-legislative resolution passed by the European Parliament on May 3.

“Children shall not be detained for immigration purposes” and the EU Commission should act against EU member states “in instances of protracted and systematic immigration detention of children and their families,” stats the resolution.

According to the latest data from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), in September 2016, Bulgaria was the country with the most migrant children in detention, while there were also large numbers of detained children in Greece, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

No children were detained on the days when on-the-spot checks were carried out in Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Spain or the United Kingdom.

According to the resolution, there are an estimated 5.4m migrant children living in Europe. Almost half of those who arrived in recent years were unaccompanied or separated children.

As such, MEPs agreed that the lack of reliable information, and lengthy family reunification and guardian appointment procedures, together with the fear of being detained, sent back or transferred, is resulting in children absconding, leaving them exposed to trafficking, violence and exploitation.

For the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group in the European Parliament, all EU member states need to do more to protect child migrants arriving in Europe.

“In 2017, over 30,000 migrant children arrived in Greece, Italy, Spain, and Bulgaria; almost half of these were not accompanied by an adult,” said Caterina Chinnici, S&D Group spokesperson for the Parliament’s Intergroup of children. “EU governments have a moral and legal obligation to protect these children. Over a year ago, the European Commission called for member states to take action to ensure these children had the support and care they needed. However, many member states have still not implemented the Commission’s recommendations.”

Birgit Sippel MEP, S&D Group spokesperson for civil liberties, justice and home affairs, added that thousands of children have gone missing from official records over the last few years.

“The EU needs to do all in its power to ensure their safety,” she said. “The European Commission must start infringement procedures against member states that continue with the protracted and systemic detention of migrant children. The fear of being detained is a key reason why children are disappearing from the system and avoiding the authorities that should be there to help them.”