➡️This page will be updated regularly to include the most recent developments around the world and capturing IDC members voices.
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Continued Detention & Inadequate Conditions in Immigration Detention

Instances of arbitrary and indefinite detention, inhumane and inadequate, overcrowded detention conditions, limited access to food, water and health supplies, lack of access to rights and services in places of immigration detention were widely reported before the outbreak of Covid-19. In the context of Covid-19, migrants in detention are even more vulnerable as conditions in detention are incompatible with prevention measures. Their rights are even more likely to be violated due to restrictions in access to services and legal support, cancelled access to visits, lack of food distribution, limited information, reduced staff in detention centres and reduced capacity from civil society and UN agencies to mitigate the consequences of these conditions. 

Continued use detention, concerns due to the high risk of Covid-19 spreading in overcrowded immigration detention centres and inadequate conditions have been reported by IDC Members from all over the world. 

IDC Member input
  • IDC Members in South Africa raised awareness of continued arbitrary detention despite deportations being halted due to border closures. Migrants are being transferred from border posts into Lindela and Pollsmoor immigration detention centers, increasing already overcrowded conditions.  
  • IDC Members in Malawi are concerned about migrants being swept up in four detention centres recently opened for quarantine purposes. After 14 days, migrants are transferred to immigration detention centres and prisons. Conditions in detention centres are inhumane and inadequate with lack of access to water or soap in the cells, where migrants are being forced to stay.
  • IDC Members across Southern and Eastern Africa reported concerns due to the high risk of Covid-19 spreading in overcrowded immigration detention centres.

⚡️ In Kenya, migrants who arrived from areas affected by the virus before the border closure are detained in overcrowded quarantine centers with poor conditions and lack of access to health care or services. Quarantine centers serve as detention centres for migrants, those that had been in contact with others who tested positive, and those who had been arrested for flouting the curfew and social distancing rules.

In the United States there is a growing risk of indefinite detention in immigration detention centres with conditions that have been consistently reported as unsanitary and inadequate. Migrants in detention, as well as advocates, continue calling for release into alternatives to detention with hunger strikes starting in some detention centres.

IDC Member input
  • IDC Members across the Americas have expressed concern that migrants and asylum seekers are kept in detention despite calls for release. Border closures and the impossibility to effect deportations are generally not leading to releases from immigration detention.

In Mexico, the fear of indefinite detention in immigration detention centres with reported unsafe overcrowded conditions has prompted riots and increased violence leading to several injured and an asylum seeker dying in immigration detention centres in Tenosique and Tapachula during protests in relation to Covid-19 and inadequate conditions. 

In Trinidad and Tobago and in Curaçao, governments are keeping migrants and asylum seekers in immigration detention centres with a history of poor healthcare and sanitation, disregarding the risks for detainees in contracting Covid-19.

In Australia, detainees in immigration centres are pleading to be released because of Covid-19 fears, as it is impossible to self-isolate and protect themselves from the disease. The Australian Government has not responded yet to appeals of release and immigration detention continues with some refugees previously detained on Manus Islands and Nauru moved onto onshore hotels for detention.

⚡️ Calls for release of those in immigration detention centers and on-shore hotels in Australia continue without any response from the government.

⚡️ In Malaysia, the government has started large-scale immigration raids detaining undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. These raids commenced despite the government announced that undocumented migrants would not be arrested or detained if approaching health services for testing.

IDC Member input
  • An IDC Member in Thailand, expressing concerns over continued detention in crowded centers and the heightening risk of Covid-19 spread, informed that Thailand is considering moving detainees into various immigration detention centres to allow some social distancing.
  • An IDC Member in South Korea said that regardless of the governments’ overall response raising precaution measures to the highest level there has not been any change in policies regarding immigration detention. Besides some small-scale testing and attempts to improvise sanitation, conditions in detention centres have turned more restrictive with no visitation rights, restricted access for civil society and accelerated deportation procedures.     

In Greece, nearly 42.000 refugees remain in overcrowded detention camps as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads, with refugees lacking access to essential items and services, such as soap and water and even basic health care. The government has repeatedly ignored calls for release into adequate alternatives and, after several cases tested positive, ordered an immediate lock down of the camps.   

IDC Member input
  • IDC Members all across Europe raised concerns on inadequate conditions of detention and instances of continued arbitrary immigration detention despite deportation being halted due to border closures.
  • An IDC Member in Turkey reported that newly admitted migrants are quarantined for 14 days inside immigration detention centres. The communal areas are closed and migrants are not allowed to leave the sleeping areas, with food being served there. Visitation rooms have now a glass divider and access is only allowed for lawyers with the requirement to use hand sanitiser and wear gloves and mask. 
  • An IDC Member in Greece expressed concern that the government is reportedly drafting legislation to increase detention time limits.

In France, several asylum seekers due to be returned to Italy under Dublin have had their appeal against the extension of their detention rejected and will continue to be detained.

⚡️ In Spain, two immigration detention centers are still functioning despite the Spanish authorities stating that all detention centres were expected to be closed by 6 April. The other three detention centers in the country have been effectively emptied.

In Qatar, labour camps for migrant workers have become virtual prisons with thousands of workers trapped inside the camps being unable to leave. These “improvised” immigration detention camps are being guarded by police, and those quarantined inside are trapped in squalid, overcrowded conditions.

⚡️ In Tunisia, migrants at an immigration detention center near Tunis are on a hunger strike to protest their continued detention, as well as the absence of Covid-19 prevention measures. Despite continues calls for releases, alternatives to detention are not in place and migrants have not been allowed to return to their homes or other accommodations where they can quarantine safely.

IDC Member input
  • An IDC Member in Libya reported growing concerns and efforts from civil society calling for release, demanding the provision of preventive materials in immigration detention centres and requesting comprehensive disinfection in the centres.
  • An IDC Member in Egypt reported growing concerns regarding lack of access to healthcare in detention leaving even migrant children and those who have chronic diseases without adequate care.
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Lockdown Measures & Border Closures

Lockdown measures taken by governments to address the Covid-19 crisis are having multiple impacts on migrants, and on the organisations and communities supporting them. 

With State infrastructures and services impeded by the crisis, and UN partners suspending some of their activities, IDC Members and civil society partners are facing increasing pressure to mitigate the impacts on migrants while trying to address the impacts on their own organisations and staff. Lockdown measures seriously reduce the possibilities of civil society organisations and other service providers to access migrants in detention and in the community and shelters are forced to close down or reduced activities. IDC Members are witnessing how the closure of processing centres, the suspension of asylum and migration procedures, and more widely, the closure of borders is leaving migrants without documentation and at heightened risk of detention.

IDC Member input
  • IDC Members across Southern and Eastern Africa raised growing concerns regarding the impacts of  partial and complete lockdowns on the rights of migrants and on the organisations and individuals serving them.
  • Restrictions on movement are impacting their ability to provide essential services, including even food delivery programs to immigration detention centres. IDC Members have also reported concerns that their staff will be unable to access resources due to disruptions in supply chains. Restrictions are also preventing IDC Members to access immigration detention centres with the consequent impact in service provision, legal advice and monitoring activities.
  • IDC Members have also expressed concerns over a heightened risk of detention due to asylum procedures and other administrative instances not operating.
  • An IDC Member operating in Kenya reported how travel restrictions, particularly the ban on domestic flights, and lack of access to means of public and private transportation is preventing them to move to field offices in refugee camps to continue offering services to refugees and mitigating the impacts of Covid-19 as much as possible. 
  • To address the lack of public transportation means and the ban on cars, an IDC Partner in Uganda has started to use bicycles and motorcycles as a way to continue reaching to clients during Covid-19. 

In Botswana and in Ghana governments have increased the patrolling of borders to control unauthorised entries. This is leading to higher instances of immigration detention. In Ghana arrests are not just limited to migrants crossing the border, but also includes those found aiding migrants

Uganda has suspended its open-door policy for refugees and asylum seekers with immediate effect for a 30-day period, raising concerns about the situation of those who will still cross the border.

IDC Member input
  • IDC Members running shelters in Mexico have temporarily stopped receiving new migrants as a response to Covid-19. Despite putting in place Covid-19 protocols, staff capacity is limited and there is no external support.

In Mexico, asylum applications and interviews have being suspended increasing risk of detention and indefinite detention. 

In Canada, the Immigration and Refugee Board of has postponed all in-person hearings and mediations, other than immigration detention reviews.

The United States is postponing asylum hearings, enacting immediate deportations, including of unaccompanied minors, and closing borders. Asylum seekers stranded in Mexico pending asylum hearings in the US are stuck in camps and shelters across the border.

IDC Member input
  • IDC Members across the Americas are reporting increased militarization of borders as a result of Covid-19. Temporary migrant workers have been trapped in several countries due to border closures, some of them without accommodation or food and at risk of immigration detention.

In Libya, refugees face being cut off from aid as UNHCR announced the suspension of some activities, including visits to immigration detention centres until appropriate safety measures are in place.

IDC Member input
  • An IDC Member operating in Libya has expressed how restrictions on movement and reduced capacity are impacting their ability to provide essential services to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, including food distribution and legal advice to those in immigration detention centres.
  • An IDC Member in Egypt expressed concern over the suspension of registration with UNHCR as government offices that used to facilitate registration are now closed. Those not able to register are treated as undocumented migrants, which has led to an increase in detentions in already overcrowded immigration detention centres.
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Releases from Immigration Detention & Moratoriums on the Use of Detention

IDC Members are witnessing how in a small, but growing, number of countries migrants are being released from places of immigration detention and governments are starting to put in place moratoriums on the use of detention. These developments will only be promising if followed by adequate protocols that ensure release into alternatives to detention with full access to rights and services. Non-custodial alternatives to detention, based in the community are a viable solution to mitigate the risks of spread of the virus while ensuring rights and access to services, particularly health, for all migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.  

Supporting governments in managing releases based on alternatives to detention; adapting current pilots on alternatives to detention to the realities of Covid-19; capturing processes, challenges and learnings; and reflecting on the lessons learned during the health crisis will be key to successfully move away from the use of immigration detention during Covid-19 and beyond.

IDC Member input
  • In Botswana, an IDC Member reported the release of asylum seekers from immigration detention to a refugee camp where they were given psychosocial support.
  • An IDC Member in South Africa is in conversations with the government to discuss the release of migrants from immigration detention centres and prisons into alternatives that include reporting mechanisms from the community. 

In Zambia, Home Affairs announced the release of all migrants in detention on the basis of their migratory status. 

In Canada, several Courts and the Immigration and Refugee Board started taking into account Covid-19 risks when considering and reviewing immigration detention cases. There are continued calls for a general release of immigration detainees. While authorities have released some detainees, many remained in the detention facilities while others are held in maximum- security jails on the basis of their immigration status. 

⚡️ In Canada, the number of migrants released from immigration detention centres as a response to Covid-19 continues to grow. By 19 April, the number of migrants detained for migration related reasons has dropped by half since the beginning of the pandemic.

In the United States, some federal judges have been using their discretion in releasing immigration detainees. While some have denied requests, others have ordered releases on the basis that the migrants were at high risk of contracting the virus. In New Jersey, New York and California judges have ordered the release of small numbers of immigration detainees based on health concerns.

⚡️ In the United States of America, federal judges continue using their discretion to order release of migrants from immigration detention due to health concerns. A federal judge in California has ordered immediate release of some detained migrants to reduce the numbers to a level that would allow for social distancing during the pandemic. In Los Angeles, a federal judge is requiring to consider for release from immigration detention all migrants over 55, pregnant or with serious underlying health conditions.

⚡️ In Mexico, civil society organizations filed a lawsuit that lead to a judicial order to release all migrants held in immigration detention. Following this, the government ordered the immediate release of all migrants.  As of 26 of April 2020, few migrants remain in detention. However, those released have been automatically deported to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador without due process.

IDC Member input
  • An IDC Member in El Salvador, has reported that the only immigration detention centre has been emptied and turned into a space for quarantined people. Migrants who were detained have been relocated to churches and shelters run by civil society.
  • An IDC Member in Mexico has reported that, due to increasingly inadequate conditions in detention, a very small number of migrants have been released from Villahermosa immigration detention centre and taken to a shelter run by civil society.

⚡️ In Japan, despite the continued used of immigration detention, a small number of migrants in are starting to be released due to health concerns with residence permits that will expire once the pandemic ends.

In the United Kingdom, Home Office has released around 350 people from immigration detention centres as a result of a legal challenge by an IDC Member and other partners. Home Office has refrained from detaining nationals from 49 countries to which deportation is currently not possible while others still remain in immigration detention.

⚡️ In the United Kingdom, the government has not put in place alternatives to detention to ensure that those put on a three-month temporarily released from immigration detention, and estimate of 400 by 17 April, have access to housing, health care and other essential services.

In Italy judges have started issuing individual release orders for a small number of migrants on the basis that deportation is not possible.

 In Spain, three out of the five immigration detention centres have been emptied and migrants are being released into community based alternatives to detention. Some releases started at the beginning of the Covid-19 response.

⚡️ In Turkey, hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers have been released after being quarantined in detention. The government has not put in place any alternatives measure to ensure access to services, including housing and healthcare.

IDC Member input
  • IDC Members in Spain are cooperating with authorities to facilitate releases into alternatives to detention.

In Belgium, 300 migrants have been released as the immigration detention centres could not ensure social distancing. Migrants were given an order to leave Belgium within 30 days. 

Saudi Arabia released 250 immigration detainees in an attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19 and is currently starting to move or deport Ethiopian migrants to other Gulf countries or back to Ethiopia while the UN is calling for a temporary suspension of deportation. 

IDC Member input
  • IDC Members in Tunisia reported that migrants have started to be released from immigration detention centres into shelters, although highlighting a lack of capacity of these shelters.
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Access to Services in the Community, Particularly Healthcare

Very often migrants and asylum seekers released into alternatives to detention and living in the community do not have full access to services and healthcare. Far more often, undocumented migrants do not approach essential services and health care due to fear of immigration detention. 

IDC Members reported how lack of access to information and health care – in the form of discriminatory policies, or in the unwillingness of undocumented migrants to approach services – is increasing the vulnerability of migrants to Covid-19 and thus also the risks of Covid-19 spreading. In the Covid-19 context, some migrants are becoming undocumented due to travel restrictions and the impossibility to return to their countries and are facing the same challenges in accessing healthcare.  

Some countries are putting in place regularisation schemes and setting up firewalls between health services and immigration authorities that help addressing these challenges.

In Zambia, Home Affairs announced that migrants overstaying their permits or released from detention not able to return to their countries of origin will be regularised. 

In the Americas, access to health and the possibility for self-isolation pose a major challenge for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. 

In Colombia, the Ministry of Health recently issued specific “Guidelines for the prevention, detection and management of cases of Covid-19 among migrant population in Colombia”, aiming at providing recommendations for local authorities to grant assistance and access to adequate health to migrants.

Colombia has suspended time limits for those whose permits are expiring during the Covid-19 crisis and lifted requirements for visa extensions for those not able to leave the country due to travel restrictions.   

Ecuador announced that Venezuelans will have 60 days after the end of the Covid-19 emergency to regularise their situation in the country.

Malaysia announced that firewalls will be established between health services and the police, guaranteeing undocumented migrants who are worried that testing for Covid-19 puts them at risk of detention will not be reported to immigration authorities.

⚡️ Despite the above, the Malaysian government is citing Covid-19 concerns to start large-scale immigration raids detaining undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

IDC Member input
  • According to an IDC Member in South Korea, the government has lifted the duty of medical staff in public health facilities to report undocumented patients to immigration services in an effort to ensure that all people can access medical facilities and health care without fear of detention. Undocumented migrants are able to be tested and treated without fear of being reported to the authorities.

In Portugal, all foreigners with pending applications, including asylum seekers, will be treated as permanent residents and have been given the same access to services as citizens including national health service, welfare benefits, bank accounts, and work and rental contracts until the end of the Covid-19 crisis

France has extended all residence permits by three months to avoid expirations during the health crisis. 

In Ireland, all migrants, including undocumented, were given access to healthcare and social services. Information will not be shared with immigration authorities. Permissions due to expire will be automatically renewed for a period of three months. Additionally, four open isolation centres have been opened to host asylum seekers with signs of Covid-19, allowing  them to distance and self-isolate while ensuring continued access to rights and services.

 In Spain, the government is granting extraordinary work permits for undocumented migrants to work in the agricultural sector. These permits will only be valid during the health emergency and are aimed at ensuring food supplies.

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