IDC Position on Covid-19

In response to the Covid-19 crisis, IDC initiated regional webinars for our members in Africa, MENA, Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas. These webinars were attended by 135 participants across more than 40 countries. Through this process, IDC heard about the impacts and needs on the ground from organisations working at the forefront of Covid-19 response around the globe.


IDC heard about closures of registration centres and courts, leaving many refugee, asylum seeker and migrant communities without documentation and at-risk of detention. The extreme duress on economic, healthcare and housing infrastructures, has led to poverty, homelessness, illness, and food shortages. Lock down measures have also reduced social services, particularly impacting communities already affected by systemic marginalisation, such as women, children, LGBTQI+ communities and people living with disabilities. Reduction in services is also leading to further human rights violations for those in and at-risk of immigration detention.

People in immigration detention are highly vulnerable to Covid-19 due to inadequate conditions, such as inconsistent temperature checks, overcrowding, limited soap, water, masks and gloves, poor access to health care, and lack of information channels. Many are also facing prospects of indefinite detention due to border closures and inability to deport. These conditions have given rise to serious health and human rights concerns, and in some cases, has led to detainee hunger strikes and riots in protest. Additionally, crises and closures at borders have led to the denial of entry of people seeking protection and family reunification, as well as detention in airports, transport hubs, and makeshift holding facilities. Deportation and removals continue in some States, leading to public health and humanitarian concerns. Release and ATD approaches vary widely across States, with some ordering closures of detention centres and release of people into the community with registration and follow-up support from government agencies. In others, however, people have been released with no registration, documentation, or support, leaving NGOs scrambling to address their basic needs.


IDC members across all regions from the United States, Malawi, Spain, Tunisia, Mexico, Korea and more, urged for immediate release of all immigration detainees and moratorium on further detention, due to health concerns, human rights factors, and inability to deport. Some members additionally called for the release of people with varying levels of convictions from prisons. Children, vulnerable populations, and people with comorbidities are of specific concern across all forms of forced confinement.

Further, members in Egypt, Peru, Thailand, Belgium and others, identified the need to ensure economic, social and human rights in ATD arrangements, including physical and mental healthcare, work rights, and housing. Additionally, members called for immediate protection from immigration enforcement when accessing health and human services.

Members in Australia, Greece, Malaysia, El Salvador and others, warned against public health measures that increase detention limits, reduce alternatives, or worsen detention conditions, such as further arrests and solitary confinement. Additionally, for those currently detained, members across regions appealed for legal and translation support, healthcare and hygiene, safe family visitation, human rights and dignity.

Members in Cyprus, Columbia, Nigeria, Canada and more, pressed for safe and responsive processes to secure legal status, such as extending deadlines, issuance of stay permits, alternate filing methods, telephonic reporting, and a moratorium on detention orders.

IDC’s Global Covid-19 Policy Position

IDC recognises that government and civil society experiences of Covid-19 vary by region and by country, and response to this crisis requires tailored solutions that address immediate, as well as long-term recovery concerns. Response must also utilise the unique expertise, systems and frameworks that exist in each context.

With this in mind, IDC has developed a broad based Global Covid-19 Policy Position that is grounded in the impacts, needs, and realities of our members worldwide. IDC will focus our Covid-19 response efforts within this position, using approaches tailored to context, including advocacy, government guidance, resource development, and campaign and member support.

During Covid-19 crisis and recovery, IDC recommends:

  1. Immediate release from immigration detention into rights-based ATD, and a moratorium on any further detention
  2. Non-discriminatory access to rights and services for all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the community, as well as case resolution procedures that are adapted to the health and safety needs of Covid-19 
  3. For those remaining in detention, conditions must meet international human rights standards, and must not be diminished due to Covid-19

International Human Rights Standards related to Covid-19

Under the Covid-19 crisis, international human rights principles & standards related to immigration detention & ATD remain fully in force:

Immigration detention should only be used as an exceptional measure of last resort. Children and families should never be detained for reasons related to their migration status. Non-custodial, community-based alternatives to detention, and alternative care arrangements, should be established in accordance with human rights.

When exceptionally resorted to, immigration detention must be consistent with the prohibition of arbitrary detention, lawful, necessary and proportionate, based upon an individual assessment, and in line with applicable procedural safeguards and international standards.   

Some key implications in the context of Covid-19:

Detention Conditions

The principle of human dignity 

Respect for the rights and human dignity of those in immigration detention includes guaranteeing adequate conditions and full access to rights and services, including enjoyment of health care, and sufficient sanitary and living conditions. Conditions in immigration detention are often inadequate and incompatible with Covid-19 prevention measures. If adequate conditions cannot be met, those in detention must be released into alternatives

Challenging Detention

The prohibition of arbitrary detention

Border closures due to Covid-19 have led to the suspension of deportations, therefore continued detention of those pending deportation is arbitrary, as the grounds for deprivation of liberty no longer exists. Those arbitrarily detained must be released into alternatives

Access to Rights, Services, Healthcare

The principle of non-discrimination 

Those remaining in immigration detention are entitled to the same standard of health care available in the community. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the community must be included, without discrimination, into Covid-19 responses that governments put in place to relieve the impacts of the current emergency situation.  

For more information, see practical guidance from UN agencies and bodies on international standards related to immigration detention and ATD in the context of Covid-19: