Advocacy for Rights-Based ATD in Japan

On 28th July 2020, Forum for Refugees Japan (FRJ), an IDC member and a network of NGOs working to support asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Japan, hosted a webinar on Alternatives to Detention (ATD) to raise awareness among members of parliament in Japan.

The webinar was attended by eleven MPs and their staff members from both ruling and opposition parties. Vivienne Chew from IDC’s Asia Pacific Programme was invited to speak on global trends on immigration detention, international research findings on ATDs as well as the lessons learnt from various ATD models. David Keegan from HOST International, an IDC member based in Australia, also had an opportunity to share the asylum system and ATD measures currently in place in Australia with Japanese MPs and civil society members.

The webinar was organised against the backdrop of the recent report submitted to the Ministry of Justice in Japan by Expert Panel for Detention and Deportation in July 2020, in which the panel suggested measures to address the long-term detention of foreign nationals including asylum seekers, in Japan. Civil society has raised concerns over the panel’s suggestions, in particular, proposed measures that could result in criminal penalties being applied towards migrants and failed asylum seekers who are unable to follow deportation orders. On a more positive note, the report mentioned ATD as a potential means to resolve long-term detention, though the term “ATD” is largely undefined. Following the release of the report, FRJ members immediately released a joint statement (English translation here) on the recommendations made by the Expert Panel and subsequently organised the ATD webinar.



The webinar came in timely as the Ministry of Justice will be using the expert panel report for the revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act during the next parliamentary session due to take place in a few months. The webinar provided an opportunity for FRJ to highlight the importance and effectiveness of rights-based, engagement centered ATD rather than models based on enforcement and sanctions. The vital role of collaboration between government and civil society actors in ATD implementation was also discussed.

Moving forward, FRJ and its members will continue to engage with relevant government agencies to ensure the future ATD scheme can contribute to a rights-based asylum and migration governance system in Japan.


Volunteers Transcend Borders in Moral Outrage

The risks immigration detention poses on the health and well-being of migrant and refugee populations is the most important reason why IDC strives to build movements to reduce immigration detention and implement non-custodial community-based alternatives. The potential impact of detention on the mental and physical health of those detained is so severe that its use as a message of deterrence, immigration control or as a blanket response to groups of migrants cannot be justified. The response of some of the world's principal detaining countries over the past few months has brought this reality into focus.

The United States and the United Kingdom are just two of these countries that have so far continued to detain migrants indefinitely in prison environments throughout the pandemic, responding woefully inadequately to issues of public health in immigration detention. With the US representing the oldest and largest detention system in the world and the UK maintaining one of the largest in Europe, this August IDC partners, Freedom for Immigrants and AVID - Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (which convene networks of volunteer visitor groups across the US and the UK, respectively) sent an open letter on behalf of 40 visitation groups to both governments calling for the release of all people from immigration detention.


Representing 1,778 volunteers who regularly visit people in 47 immigration detention facilities in both countries, these community advocates joined together across two continents in moral outrage at the continued detention of migrants and refugees in the face of verified reports of substandard medical care by private contractors, poor emergency care, gross failures and medical neglect, failure to prevent communicable diseases, and severe restrictions in on-going detention, such as ad hoc quarantines and solitary confinement, leading to a devastating impact on mental health including hunger strikes and mass harm.

Our concern regarding the consequences that state policies have on the health and well-being of people impacted by and at-risk of immigration detention is exacerbated by the fact that both the US and UK governments have responded to Covid-19 by terminating all social visits and limiting communication with the outside world. This leaves migrants without independent medical support, face-to-face contact with family, community and lawyers in many cases.

According to Freedom for Immigrants, the right to receive visits in immigration detention is an emerging international norm and the European Union has begun to protect this right. However, most countries in the world do not recognize this right and the operation of visitation programs is almost always entirely in the discretion of an individual detention facility. The volunteer visitation groups convened by Freedom for Immigrants and AVID not only provide crucial interpersonal support to people isolated in detention centers, they also monitor for human and civil rights abuses and promote government accountability in many areas, including detainee health and well-being.

It is through these important and unique programs that organizations like Freedom for Immigrants and AVID receive reports of widespread instances which show it is impossible to comply with public health guidance inside detention. In this time of a global pandemic, the only way to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of people needlessly detained do not contract Covid-19 is to facilitate their release.

Join IDC, Freedom for Immigrants and AVID in calling for the safe, timely and managed release of all detained migrants into the care of their communities.

Read and share the open letter





For further information, please contact Christina Fialho at Freedom for Immigrants, [email protected], and Ali McGinley at AVID, [email protected].

Collaboration & Refugee Protection in Thailand

HOST’s new capacity building initiative in Thailand highlights the value of collaboration between government and civil society in refugee protection

Since January 2019 when the Memorandum of Understanding on the Determination of Measures and Approaches Alternative to Detention of Children in Immigration Detention Centers (MoU) was implemented in Thailand, more than 230 children and their mothers have been able to access an alternative to immigration detention. The MoU is a positive development of Thailand to prevent children and their mothers from being held in immigration detention.

HOST International, one of the most active IDC members in Thailand, has enabled the swift implementation of a Thai community-based alternative to detention programme for children and families who were arrested in Thailand. HOST has demonstrated a way that international NGOs, local NGOs and governments can work together to respond to opportunities for case management and protection under the MoU.

Starting in August 2020, HOST has launched a new capacity-building initiative “Capacity Building Service Project” to support Thailand’s Immigration Bureau and Department of Children and Youth (DCY), the key agencies responsible for the implementation of the MoU for better understanding of refugee protection, case management, and referral system. Refugee organisations from Thailand’s refugee network “The Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons”, such as Asylum Access Thailand, Center for Asylum Protection, Jesuit Refugee Services and Fortify Rights worked together to support the training with the aim to enable the government officials to better respond to the needs of children and their mothers.




In the event, IDC was also invited to speak on global and Thailand’s refugee trends. From HOST capacity building initiative, there were 31 Immigration Bureau officers and 30 DCY officers who have learnt to apply International Standards and Principles to their work under the MoU. They shared their experiences in refugee protection, and built their network among agencies and civil society organizations. In addition, they prepared their works for the upcoming implementation of the National Screening Mechanism (NSM) for refugees.

Moving forward, HOST will continue to assist the Immigration Bureau and DCY through this capacity building initiative. There will be a number of capacity building activities toward the end of 2020 to enable the Thai government to reach out the country’s goal to better protect refugees or persons in need of international protection in Thailand.

ATD for Migrant Children in Mexico

Over the past few months, IDC has participated in discussions with the local authorities of various Mexican states regarding strategies for alternative care, aimed at strengthening the local implementation of the Migrant Child Protection Protocol.

This was done through the Commission for the Protection of Migrant Children and Asylum Seekers. In this video, Diana Martínez, Americas Programme Officer, explains the concept of alternatives to detention and its relation to alternative care for migrant and refugee children. She also presents experiences from other parts of the world, which were identified by IDC as good practices.

(Available in Spanish)


IDC Strategic Plan 2020-2022

Rights-Based Migration Without Immigration Detention

Over the last decade, governments increased their use of immigration detention in response to growing rates of migration. Further, the 2020 impacts of Covid-19 brought worldwide systemic shock to governments, civil society, and the human experience. At the time of writing, IDC members shared concerns about duress on economic, healthcare, housing and judiciary bodies, leading to poverty, homelessness, illness, food shortages, lack of documentation and heightened risk of detention.

In the coming months and years, the actions of global entities, governments and civil society will set a course for the post-pandemic world to either return to expanding detention, or commit to protecting rights and dignity in the migration experience. Over the next two years, we will support members, partners and governments to recover, rebuild, and re-envision rights-based migration systems without immigration detention.


New Education Initiative By Refugee-Led Startup

JRS Indonesia, one of the most active IDC members in Asia Pacific, has launched a new initiative recently to support education and livelihood of refugees in Indonesia. Through a partnership with a refugee-led IT startup initiative, SMART(Skilled Migrants And Refugee Technicians), JRS Indonesia has supported SMART to host a free webinar for refugees on making a livelihood online. This project is particularly relevant and timely in the context of Covid-19, as livelihood options for refugees have become ever scarcer.


SMART and JRS are also exploring the possibility of developing a livelihood capacity building programme for refugees, providing Covid-19 related information online and creating an e-study platform in partnership with a community-based learning centre for refugee children. This platform will allow teachers to conduct their classes online and will help refugee children to continue their education despite the restrained movements due to Covid-19. 

For more information, please directly contact:

Mr Gading Gumilang Putra (Jesuit Refugee Service Indonesia) at [email protected]

Covid-19 Outbreaks in Malaysia's Detention Centres

In May 2020, Malaysia faced national and global criticism for conducting immigration raids in locked-down areas where Covid-19 clusters had emerged. During these raids, more than 2,000 undocumented migrants, including some refugees and asylum seekers were arrested, among them approximately 100 children.

Within weeks of these raids, Malaysia has now seen a surge of Covid-19 cases (776 cases as of 19 June 2020) in its overcrowded immigration detention facilities, with infections now having been reported in 5 separate detention centres. On 11 June, Malaysia saw its first Covid-19 fatality in immigration detention, a 67 year old man from India, reportedly a stranded tourist, who died in Bukit Jalil immigration detention centre. This detention centre has accounted for over 80% of all Covid-19 cases in immigration detention facilities in Malaysia. On 17 June, it was further reported that a 4 year old boy from Myanmar and his mother, who had also been detained at Bukit Jalil, had tested positive for Covid-19. 

The Malaysia government has announced that detainees who test negative for Covid-19 will be deported, while those who test positive will be sent to quarantine centres and treated before deportation. However, given the virus' incubation period, there remains a risk that testing could fail to pick up a positive diagnosis; as a result, further outbreaks of Covid-19 in detention centres are a distinct possibility, as is the risk of deported detainees exporting the virus to another country. Rights groups have also warned of the risk of refoulement, given that asylum seekers have been among those arrested; UNHCR has been denied access to Malaysia's detention centres since August 2019.

Despite these outbreaks in detention centres, the government has refused to impose a moratorium on immigration enforcement activities. 

These developments come at a time of a significant rise in xenophobia against refugees and migrants in Malaysia, coupled with increasingly harsh government policies against these groups. 

Opportunities Amidst the Pandemic

Preventing the detention of migrant children through local coordination of a national protection route

The government of Mexico ended 2019 with a huge debt due to depriving 51,999 migrant children of their liberty, a 77.7% increase compared to the previous year. In response to the prohibition contained in the Regulations of the General Law on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, which states no minor under the age of 18 shall be detained for migratory reasons, the Commission on the Protection of Migrant Children and Adolescents (Protection Commission) began 2020 with a plan to implement the recently created Protection Route for Children and Adolescents in a Mobility Situation, with the support of civil society members of this commission.

Although the health emergency interrupted the progress in coordination and implementing priorities, as in many countries, the use of technology has allowed the continued coordination of care and advocacy of civil society organisations to gain the right to personal freedom for migrant children and adolescents. The Protection Commission adjusted and reorganised its work to account for the health emergency, while also implementing the urgent Protection Route throughout the 32 states in the Mexican Republic. This was done with the central aim to not use immigration detention, and to provide referrals to several models of alternative care focused on case management.

 Covid-19 caused sudden full migration stations in Mexico, including the presence of migrant children and adolescents. Unfortunately, they were not freed by immigration authorities into emerging programs on alternatives to detention; instead, many were transferred to their countries of origin, whenever border restrictions permitted. Faced with this worrying scenario, the Protection Commission launched a virtual conversations program aimed at listening to the needs of state authorities, and local civil society organisations to create a national response to the pandemic. Furthermore, the ultimate purpose was to make sure each state established a similar commission tasked with implementing the Protection Route, and the promoting alternative care models for migrant children and adolescents.

The first conversations session had nationwide reach with over 140 participants, mostly child protection, migration and asylum authorities who spoke about the recommendations issued by international bodies on effective protection of migrant children and adolescents in the context of Covid.  IDC shared the Recommendations of the Working Group on Alternatives to Immigration Detention of the United Nations Network on Migration, which seek to ensure the health of people in human mobility situations who are detained or at risk of being detained. These recommendations include: ending immigration detention, adopting moratoriums on the use of immigration detention, and increasing non-custodial alternatives to immigration detention.

This conversation session has been followed by more exchanges with local authorities in the states of Chiapas, Baja California and Coahuila, which emphasised the need for better coordination among child protection authorities and immigration and asylum authorities. Better coordination will ensure that children and adolescents in mobility situations are not deprived of their liberty at migration stations. Some alternative care models have been presented during these session, and civil society has shared the obstacles to adopting the Protection Route, with an emphasis on case management. This will be followed by conversation sessions with the states of Tlaxcala, Sonora and others.

Mexico continues to face significant challenges to protect children and adolescents in a mobility situations, such as the difficulty of coordinating authorities. There are over one thousand protection authorities in the country with powers to care for migrant children and adolescents. Additional difficulties include lack of resources, and the power conferred by law to immigration authorities to place children and adolescents in migration stations prior to being referred to protection officials.

The efforts made by the Protection Commission, supported by IDC and its member and allied organisations, has led to the possibility of developing effective models, establishing coordination mechanisms, and generating data and evidence on better care for children and adolescents. At its core, this is about ensuring the freedom of this population, and making referrals to alternative care models that allow them to live in the community, and with the support of various entities that enable the fulfilment of their human rights.

IDC Calls for Releases & Moratoriums Along With US & Mexico Members

The United States and Mexico have for decades been the primary detaining countries in the Americas region, with the largest detention centers and the most sophisticated immigration control and deportation systems. It is estimated that the United States has close to 40,000 people currently in immigration detention and Mexico around 2,000. Against a background of the increasing use of detention, and of particular concern, the continued detention of children, the threat of Covid-19 and a global movement of social distancing highlights the extreme vulnerability of people in immigration detention to the spread of infectious disease, as well as the lack of access to adequate medical care, over and above the rights violations implicit in a system of mandatory immigration detention.

Advocates in Mexico have rallied together around this issues, with a powerful collective of IDC Americas member and partner organizations initiating a multi-level advocacy strategy to demand that the Mexican government release migrants from detention centers due to the risk of contagion of Covid-19 due to the conditions in which people are deprived of liberty.

Together with Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración, Sin Fronteras, Fundación para la Justicia y el Estado de Derecho, Asylum Access, Otros Dreams en Acción, and other partners, we launched a campaign calling on the Mexican government to release all migrants and asylum seekers from detention centers and provide them with immigration documentation in the form of a temporary humanitarian visa, temporarily suspend migrant raids and enforcement measures throughout the country to avoid new detentions and to provide information regarding the national measures being taken to avoid the spread of Covid-19 and contact information for local health clinics, international and national organizations.


Collective litigation and advocacy work

Throughout these last weeks we have also highlighted the collective litigation and advocacy work that has been carried out by more than 40 organizations concerned with the freedom and health of migrants in the framework of the pandemic: These actions are reflected in various webinars, communications to federal and state authorities, law suits, a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos), reports and calls to action.

Advocates are perhaps most hopeful of the unprecedented success seen recently in the courts. Some of these organizations filed a constitutional legal action and the court issued a favorable historic resolution, an injunction ordering immigration authorities in Mexico to immediately release migrants belonging to vulnerable groups that are currently detained and to ensure that no child is detained in a detention center. These are two of 11 measures ordered to safeguard the life and health of the more than 2,000 migrants and asylum seekers that immigration authorities have reported in detention. Legal actions continue in various states in the country, in order to keep up the legal pressure for immigration authorities to comply with the order, of which to date there has been no notification.

At the time of writing, it appears that this collective advocacy is having some impact and IDC Americas has received reports that apprehensions have slowed down and many detained migrants have been released in Mexico in recent weeks, albeit without a formal procedure. It is unclear what actions immigration authorities will take in the coming weeks. The advocacy challenge remains to establish release procedures with screening and safeguards, as well as referral to post-release support structures. IDC Americas joins our Mexican partners in working on a range of proposals to develop and implement alternatives to detention for those released or at risk of further detention. Of additional concern is that deportations continue, as Mexican immigration authorities have been concentrating detained migrants in the three largest detention centers of Mexico City, Acayucan and Tapachula, deporting some through negotiated agreements with Central American governments.

Furthermore, Amnesty International Mexico has called on the country's highest Covid-19 authority, the Undersecretary of Health Prevention and Promotion, to back these calls for release of detained migrants and asylum seekers to protect their health and to make a public plea to immigration authorities in this regard, as well as providing access to housing and health services to the migrant and refugee population in Mexico.

The next few days will be crucial for Mexican migration and health authorities whose duty is to put migrant's right to health above immigration control in order to reduce the risks of Covid-19 infection among this population.

Further north in the region, advocates in the United States have been amongst the most active, progressive and vocal on calling for release of the tens of thousands currently held in immigration detention centers and jails around the country. Two new reports, the first from the Detention Watch Network and the second from Amnesty International, clearly demonstrate the high risk to the lives of migrants in detention and the collective public health threat posed by unnecessary immigration detention.

Advocacy strategies range from litigation for release of immigrants from detention to important community organizing through broad national campaigns that also amplify state and local actions, such as Detention Watch Network's call to #FreeThemAll. Further, nearly 200 state, local and national organizations worked with Congress to support the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together Act  (First Act) to work toward the release of people from detention. The Act provides urgent and critical restrictions on immigration detention and enforcement during this unprecedented national public health emergency to protect immigrant communities and collective health. You can read their letter of support.

Several of IDC's member and partner organizations have shared a range of useful collective research and advocacy tools and resources in response to Covid-19.

Detention Watch Network developed and shared on its website key messaging guidance on Covid-19 and immigration detention and a useful toolkit to support local demands for mass release from ICE custody.

The Vera Institute of Justice has shared Guidance for preventative and responsive measures to coronavirus in immigration detention

Freedom for Immigrants launched a section of their National Immigration Detention Hotline specifically to respond to Covid-19.  With social visitation indefinitely suspended, this court-protected hotline is one of the few free and confidential resources available to maintain communication with people in detention. They are also providing people across the United States with housing post release through a network of volunteers and a house they operate in Louisiana.

Freedom for Immigrants also released an interactive real-time map that tracks the number of cases in U.S. immigration detention and the government's failure to adequately respond to this pandemic. They have so far documented over 100 confirmed Covid-19 cases since the first person was diagnosed in late March. This tool tracks reports of isolation and quarantine measures in responses to Covid-19, noting their implementation in an ad hoc and dangerous way. Detention staff failure to observe proper health protocols and extreme inadequate medical responses during lockdown, resulting in substantial risk to both detained and non-detained populations, are also documented.

One initiative to watch in the coming weeks is Justice in Motion´s recently launched Child Detention Crisis Initiative, which will work through their Defender Network to bring together advocates from the United States, Central America and Mexico to free migrant children from U.S. immigration detention and reunite them with their families.

Finally, on April 26, the immigration authorities reported through a bulletin that they had emptied almost its entire population from detention centers. There are many criticisms of the lack of a program of alternatives that would have allowed the channeling of migrants to hostels or hotels, instead there were massive deportations, even of childhood and adolescence, to places that could be a risk for them, not only of getting Covid-19. There is still a need for coordination between actors to guarantee the right to health of people who are still in Mexico through a program of alternatives managed by authorities and civil society.

Thai, Jarai, Hmong, Somali & Urdu Resource on Covid-19

Thailand office of HOST International, one of IDC’s active members in Asia-Pacific, has produced a video “What is Covid-19? How to Prevent?” in five languages to target the urban displaced populations. They started with these languages that their primary clients in Thailand speak:

Thai: โควิด-19 คืออะไร? ป้องกันอย่างไร? | What is Covid-19 and How to Prevent? 

Jarai/Ede: Nơng do nu Covid-19? Si ngă ciăng răng mgang kman tưp ruă anan? | What is Covid-19? How to Prevent?

Hmong: Covid 19 yog daabtsi? Yuav tiv thaiv tau le caas? | What is Covid-19? How to Prevent?

Somali: Waa maxay Covid-19? Sidee looga hortagaa? | What is Covid-19? How to Prevent?  

Urdu: Covid-19 kia hai? Isko kaise roka ya bacha ja sakta hai? | What is Covid-19? How to Prevent?


For more information, please directly contact:

Ms. Katchada Prommachan (Acting country manager) at [email protected]