Limiting Detention Highlighted at UNHCR ExCom

Assistant High Commissioner Volker Turk

Assistant High Commissioner Volker Turk

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) governing Executive Committee (ExCom) meets in Geneva annually to review and approve the agency’s programmes and budget, advise on international protection and discuss a wide range of other issues with UNHCR and its intergovernmental and non-governmental partners. ExCom’s Standing Committee meets several times each year to carry on the body’s work between plenary sessions.

 

Assistant High Commissioner Volker Turk continued to highlight the importance of limiting the use of detention and the roll-out of the UNHCR’s Global Detention Strategy (GDS) during his statement during the ExCom Plenary, saying:

 

“Even when refugees are able to access territory, there is no guarantee that they will find effective protection. We know of this in the grave instances of refoulement or when asylum-seekers are detained, often in horrendously overcrowded conditions. We see this in deteriorating reception and living conditions and an upsurge in negative coping mechanisms, such as child labour, forced marriage, and labour exploitation. We hear of this in the testimonies of refugees who were kept in cages in jungle camps. All of these examples are part of a grim and deeply worrying picture.

 

During my field missions, I have made it a particular point to visit detention centres and to discuss with Government counterparts alternatives to current detention practices. The right to liberty is a fundamental freedom, which should not be constrained lightly. Yet, in too many situations, asylum-seekers and refugees, including children and women, are detained as a matter of course for no fault of their own, and as a result are criminalised. We are nonetheless making some progress in implementing our five-year Beyond Detention strategy, which provides a blueprint for support to Governments in twelve of our operations. We have engaged in dialogue on detention-related concerns and, more importantly, alternatives to detention, with a broad range of stakeholders, including Immigration Departments, Parliamentary Committees, Ombudsmen, and National Human Rights Commissions. This year, we have also issued two options papers for Governments on alternatives to detention and convened the second global roundtable on this subject with the participation of 24 States. Our training and technical support have further strengthened capacities in a number of countries, including Indonesia, Lithuania, Malta, and Zambia, and work on an alternatives to detention policy in Canada is well underway.

The right to liberty is a fundamental freedom, which should not be constrained lightly. Yet, in too many situations, asylum-seekers and refugees, including children and women, are detained as a matter of course for no fault of their own, and as a result are criminalised.

In our dialogue with Governments on these matters, security concerns often seem to trump humanitarian and protection considerations, but they are not mutually exclusive. We have seen time and again how giving primacy to a security focus at the expense of protection has failed to bring about the desired results, often at great expense to taxpayers. Push-backs, building walls, increasing detention, and further restricting access, combined with few legal avenues to safety, will never be the answer.”

Find out more.