GENEVA (13 October 2014) – On Thursday, 9 October the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) held their annual civil society (CSO) Consultations, providing an opportunity for IOM staff and civil society leaders to identify joint priorities, exchange ideas and good practices, and seek innovative solutions for working together to uphold the human dignity and well-being of migrants.

This year, the 2014 IOM CSO Consultations also had the distinction of following on the heels of a specific event on Migration and Families as part of the International Dialogue on Migration (IDM), the IOM’s principal forum for migration policy dialogue.  Attended by over 166 IOM Member and Observer States, as well as international and non-governmental observer organizations, the 2014 IDM theme was “Emerging Trends and New Opportunities for Partnerships”, and the dialogue on Migration and Families explored, among other things, the need to end the immigration detention of children and families as a matter of priority.


In 2013, IDC Capacity Building Coordinator, Lucy Bowring, attended the IOM CSO Consultations and contributed to a session on “Migrant’s Rights”, where she highlighted the particular harms to migrants of the use of detention on the basis of irregular status, and the particular need for states to explore, develop and implement non-custodial, community-based alternatives to detention (ATD) as a matter of priority.


This year, the 2014 IOM CSO Consultations took a step forward by explicitly including the issue of immigration detention and ATD on the formal agenda.  IDC Advocacy Coordinator, Ben Lewis, attended the 2014 Consultations,and was part of an expert panel discussing “Immigration Detention and Beyond: alternatives to detention (ATD) and other non-custodial measures.


In his address, Lewis noted, “There has been a recent shift over the past 5 years by some states to implement a more human-centred approach to migration management, including the exploration and implementation of alternatives to detention,” and that this has been the result of “a growing criticism of immigration detention practices, particularly when they are un-reviewable, long-term or indefinite, and specifically with regard to the mental and physical health impacts detention has on vulnerable groups such as children, families, asylum seekers, or those who have been exposed to torture, trauma or abuse either prior to or during their migration journey.”


Rather than use detention as a one-size-fits-all tool for migration management, Lewis encouraged IOM and civil society partners to work together to seek innovative approaches to non-custodial measures, such as alternatives to detention.  In particular, he highlighted the broad spectrum of available non-custodial measures highlighted in the IDC’s Community Assessment and Placement (CAP) model, including:


▪    Legal and policy presumptions against the use of detention;

▪    Screening, assessment and referral tools/mechanisms; and

▪    A wide range of community-based support models


Lewis also highlighted that, when implemented properly, ATD have incredibly high rates of compliance and are almost universally more cost-effective than traditional custodial detention models.


“There are alternatives to unnecessary immigration detention. By assessing the individual context, referring to community-based programs and only applying restrictive conditions when necessary, governments can make informed decisions on individual placement, management and support requirements. When implemented properly, ATD can reduce the human and financial costs of immigration detention while meeting government and community expectations. And by involving civil society as well as the individuals at risk of immigration detention themselves, states that effectively implement ATD have shown better compliance outcomes while respecting rights of vulnerable refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.”


For more information on the IDC’s work with IOM and developments coming out of the 2014 IOM CSO Consultations, please contact Ben Lewis ([email protected]).